My Maniacal Rant, Chapter One, Part One

[Author’s Note: This writing project, The Maniacal Rant of a Community College “Professor,” started about two years ago, in the fall of 2012. I began writing a book that was intended to be a collection of memoirs. These memoirs were intended to testify about my experience as an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in Northwest Indiana. My goal was to highlight the indignities I experienced, campaign for change in an unjust education system, draw attention to problems in our greater society, and share details of my incredible life story. I finished two chapters of the book, formed the majority of a third chapter, and planned fourteen more chapters. When I started this blog two months ago, I’ve found my goal as a writer has not changed much. I’ve decided it’s time to share the text from my memoirs. I intend to transcribe the text of my book periodically in this blog under the title My Maniacal Rant. Chapter One, titled “Profession as Confession, or the Professor Confessor” will be told in approximately eight parts. Enjoy.—SG]

An explanation for the title of my book is in order for the introductory chapter, in which I examine my professional time at Ivy Tech Community College, the “non-profit” option Indiana students can utilize to attain an associate’s degree or work certification…or more practically, the place where four-year college students can take 100 and 200 level college courses on the cheap. Ivy Tech advertises itself as the cost-effective alternative to Purdue, Indiana University, and various other Indiana colleges, communing lines like “It’s your money” and “The most affordable college in Indiana—by far.” I usually caution students with the ol’ counter-axiom: Careful. You get what you pay for.

The danger of explaining my thorough impetus for this book is that I easily get lost in a diatribe about how frustrating it is to be a college English teacher, especially at Ivy Tech. There are so many details.

I worked at the Gary campus for one full week before another teacher, one from the nursing department, learned I was an English instructor. She proceeded to attempt to dress me down, with a loud voice and apparent intimidation, addressing how I do not do my job properly because no one knows how to write. Her rationale was that her students did not know how to write a sentence, and it certainly was not her job to correct a student’s grammar. I was on the defensive right from the get-go at Ivy Tech.

I want to be productive, not a defeatist. There will be plenty of opportunities for my reader to witness my personal dissatisfaction as I reminisce on my experience, but my goal with writing the book is to contribute rational solutions and cohesive argument to the problems within our current education system, top to bottom, college to kindergarten. In fact, I’d like to be able to contribute some answers to the problem of the modern American lifestyle as I relate what are basically elements of my life story. This book will be a piece of creative non-fiction, a series of essays, intended to allow my reader to read both the objective and subjective aspects of my experience as a teacher of Northwest Indiana men and women, but also, a raw, revealing memoir about a man who is a proud nerd, a divorced man, a former laborer, a brother, a son, a parent, a mental-depression sufferer, a goofball golfer, a karaoke enthusiast, a full-time drunk, a part-time stoner, a political activist, a wanna-be journalist, a sports fan, a comic-book geek, a pacifist, a hippie, a Christian, a reader, a scholar…. I’ve worn many masks, all of which are contributors to my character as educator. The role I have most immersed myself in life involves the professional teacher, the person that is, perhaps, most intimate with the immediate community, who shows interest in students’ lives for sixteen-week periods and beyond. I have had the honor of being the touchstone for lessons about language and life to so many individuals in Northwest Indiana. I have gotten to know many wonderful people by being open and revealing, by placing priority on the discipline of language and story in our everyday lives, and by playing the writer who realizes that everyone can write. I wanted to be a writer when I went to college; I became a teacher, a man who proclaims on day one of every class, “I am a writer first, and a teacher second,” to every student. Both roles require an open, honest persona.

However, I must confess that I have reached the end of my rope. I stepped down from my full-time position of English instructor at Ivy Tech Community College this past summer, in 2012. I attempted to continue as an adjunct, but the financial impediments and administrative bullshit continued to make it difficult to even be a part-time instructor. It’s a shame, but there is honestly nothing singular about this decision. Truth to tell, many teachers at all levels across America become frustrated and leave the profession after a short amount of time. We should probably pay attention to at least one of these voices, since it seems most people agree that the teacher is a necessary profession for progress in this country.

I have endured many conversations and observations of the education system over the last decade, and I am struck most often by how much misunderstanding of our education system most people have. It’s a fairly universal misunderstanding. Journalists and politicians indicate that they know better, but often their rhetoric betrays ignorance. Parents across America sustain the social norm about teachers being the lowest professional rung of the national ladder concerning status, credibility, and payroll. Unfortunately, our own teachers, along with administrative pressure, perpetuate the misidentification by bowing to these norms and conceding that teaching is simply a job, when it is most definitely a profession, an important component of increasingly more Americans’ experience. Sure, most people will pay lip-service to the profession of teaching, but our policies and mores tell us differently.

Most revealing, members of my family and close friends continue to betray a misconception of the role of teacher and education. In fact, they reveal their misconception in a manner that I find repugnant and disrespectful, which makes it even more difficult to endure the long hours and complete immersion that is required to perform as a teacher successfully. I am writing this book, in some ways, to intimate sentiment to immediate members of my family and those whom I have known in Chicago and Northwest Indiana through the years. I want them to understand me a bit better, but in a way that does not involve me losing my temper and shouting at them. Those who know me best, know what buttons are easiest to push in person, but they seldom pay attention to my academic study or writing. I have quite a passion for my academic career, so my primary consideration must involve a wider audience; however, this does not preclude me from sharing this passion in this compilation, perhaps to my own detriment.

I am not exempting myself from the problems with our education system. Indeed, as a participant, I have made plenty of mistakes, and I have had to evolve each semester in order to maintain my commitment. However, I have made nowhere near the amount of mistakes as the public and private errors endorsed by the administration and faculty at Ivy Tech Northwest. I will admit that it was a learning experience for me, but I also learned what a college can be, not just for me, but mostly for my students. A college should be a place that allows individuals to make mistakes and learn from them. Students need to achieve a certain standard before they progress, and mistakes must be productive in order to develop. There is a movement that is occurring right now, at all levels and locations of education in America. It is a change that lowers academic standards in order to accommodate a larger student sample (retention rates, meaning the promotion of full-time status to students for financial aid money, and compulsion toward teachers to maintain students’ presence within the institution, even if a student does not successfully demonstrate competency), and this change also puts more emphasis on qualification and certification through “professional,” costly testing, uniform curricula, and eliminating the role of professor in our classrooms, in lieu of “facilitators” (graduation rates, specifically the need to pass students through gateway courses, especially mathematical, reading, and writing courses, as cost-effectiveness and revenue-generating opportunities). These are the policies of business administrators and the goal of privatizing America’s education system. These are the goals and policies of Ivy Tech Community College, a non-profit, state-sponsored institution.

This is where most of the shame resides in my personal decision to step down from my full-time position at Ivy Tech: I believe that attentive, relatable professors who stand up to administrative bullying are a necessity to all college environments in today’s America, but I couldn’t handle standing-up to the local and statewide bullies any longer. It started to affect my physical and mental health detrimentally.

I am a good teacher. This is not a claim that I have come to very easily. I’m pretty much the most self-loathing individual I know; my friends and family constantly confirm their concern for “how hard I am on myself.” I continue to have to muster up courage to stand on the stage of the classroom and perform my duties. I am only confident in my performance based on the feedback and performance of those individuals that have comprised my various classes over the past six years. My students have confirmed that I am good at what I do, and they have mostly demonstrated this through their successfully written products and spoken participation. Most of my students pass my classes, courses that I have spent years designing and developing, proving themselves with effort, enthusiasm, and understanding. I ensure that my students gain some empathy and comprehension about the importance of a shared language system in their lives. I guarantee that they experience the process of improved skill with the written word, voracious reading, lively debate, cultural recognition, literary interpretation, and critical thinking…the college English courses that are the first step to success in college achievement, career acquirement, and, most importantly, life experience. Language classes are also essential for fully understanding the fields of science, mathematics, technology, and engineering, yet the same emphasis for these fields is not shared on the public pulpit with language studies.

I did a damn fine job because I poured my entire self into the role of college professor. I did right by my students, and they did right by me. I invested most of my time into class preparation, lecture-scripting, effective evaluation, and constant research; most students saw this and reciprocated in kind. I was not only descriptive, but prescriptive, even though many professors, journalists, and politicians caution against this motif. I care, so students tend to care also. This subjective element is usually lost on those who happen to be in charge and hold higher pay-grades. The hypocrisy that bugs the hell out of me: many administrators and professors who I have encountered have the gall to insinuate that they understand the college system better than one who runs the classroom, especially since many of these administrators and professors do everything in their power to avoid the classroom.

The profession of teaching should be a noble endeavor, but my experience has proven that it is an ignoble, thankless job where the only gratification comes from the students themselves…certainly not from the paycheck I’ve earned. I am tired of feigning humility while experiencing such frustration with displayed ignorance. I have something to say, and this book is the soapbox. While I point out the problems of the education system, I’d also like to point out the positive aspects of my discipline, which originated from what actually took place in the classroom between teacher and student, both of whose masks I have successfully worn. Administrative change does very little to improve this dynamic, yet change-for-the-sake-of-change still occurs at a panicked rate. While indicating the self-defeating policies of our current administrative ideologies, I’d like to defend my discipline of English study, which is currently under review by aforementioned administrative policies and unethical institutional application. I’d like to share my experience at college, both as student and instructor, as an indicator of what a college could be and should be for the citizens of America today.

I’d like to appeal to my reader to change her mind about what a teacher is, and I want to persuade society-at-large that the best way to improve our education system, at all levels, is to allow the true professional to guide the profession. Incentivize the position of teacher so we might employ better professionals, recruit and employ the most intellectual of our unemployed while promoting intellectualism and ethics as necessary traits of our American workforce, and stop looking at the cost-effectiveness of every inch of our education system. Leave the liberal arts to evolve professionally within the environment of the classroom, and let teachers do their important work in that classroom, without oversight designed to appease political pressures and financial allocation.

I hesitate to share my life experience, but I understand it is necessary for my reader to understand my perspective. As a writer, it is necessary to maintain interest and empathy with my reader.

So, I’d like to introduce my book by confessing why it is so difficult for me to call myself a “professor.” The first-person voice I use as a writer and teacher, my maniacal rant, should become apparent soon enough, if it has not already.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

For a full explanation of author impetus, blog mission statement, and donations appeal, click About.}

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