One Year Down and a Lifetime to Go

Embrace the clichés. That’s what I have learned. As I reflect upon my first year as a tenure-track anthropology professor at a community college, my journey has been full of ups and downs. As I write about my observations, experiences, and personal growth, I keep plowing headlong into clichés. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing? Through the thick and thin, I’ve learned that while the life of an educator and an academic reveals many clichés, we should accept them. Rather than cast them aside as trite and banal, pull the clichés close. Examine them. Problematize them. Make them personal. Learn from them. Use them as tools for teaching. Through this process, I found one cliché stands out: patience is a virtue. It exists as a cliché worth embracing.

Students come from all walks of life

Expect the unexpected.

One of the most repeated stereotypes regarding community college students is that they are underprepared, they lack motivation, or they emanate from disadvantaged backgrounds. Needless to say, these platitudes are in most cases patently false. Instead, I’ve encountered community college students who far exceed any student from a four-year institution. Entering my position, with my experience at two- and four-year institutions, I felt prepared for students of all backgrounds and all skill levels. However, what I miscalculated was the importance of regionality. Although I moved only 60 miles to another state, my current students have vastly different experiences and worldviews from my prior students. Moreover, I’m finding differences in micro regions: despite being from the same county, students from different high schools have different skills, different desires, and again, different worldviews. Rather than there being a monolithic body, I am learning to engage students as individuals. As an anthropology instructor, I hope to develop curricula that exploit their differences in an academically productive manner. What I’ve learned is to adopt change in my methods; old lectures get stale. Yet, these changes do not have to take place overnight. Remain flexible. Patience is a virtue.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time

Even before entering the tenure-track, I felt the concept of publish or perish weighing over me. Now, I work at a teaching-heavy institution with a five-five course load, that weight has not subsided. Just like research, publishing is a process. Many steps appear, some larger than others. For me, I am working to transition my dissertation into a book. An email here. A revision there. Little steps go a long way. Although time to sit and write large chunks is difficult to find, taking advantage of small steps and opportunities allows me to maintain progress without stagnating or sliding backwards. Likewise, I find comfort in the fact that tenure and promotion are not based solely on my record of publications. I can take time to ruminate on the research I’ve already conducted while simultaneously beginning new projects. What I’ve learned is to stay driven. Patience is a virtue.

You must learn to crawl before you walk

As educators and academics, we recognize that the classroom and research are only two parts of our job; the third is service to the institution. For me, the hardest part about providing service to the institution is trying not to do everything at once. I remember feeling overwhelmed at my first governance meeting. I quickly realized that I had little idea of how faculty, administrators, and staff operationalize institutional service. Unlike teaching, where I’ve had years to hone my craft and learn through experimentation, governance appeared as a rigid system where everyone had a concrete role. However, over the last year, I’ve discovered that I need to ask more questions; institutional knowledge is often taken for granted by those within the system. The only stupid questions are the ones left unasked. I need not find my place in governance in the first year; instead I am working to appreciate the nuances of the system in order to find a committee that aligns with my goals in higher education. What I’ve learned is to stay open-minded. Patience is a virtue.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.”
—Ferris Bueller

Remain flexible.

Lost in the conversation regarding the lives of educators and academics is the concept of a personal life. Americans often talk about making sacrifices in order to succeed; however, friends, family, loved ones, and most importantly, one’s mental well-being should not be sacrificed. For instance, not only am I learning about a new job and a new institution, but I moved to a different state and a different community. New challenges arise, from finding housing, a new barber, and a new auto-repair shop, to searching for friends and a new social network. Many tasks appear. There seems to be pressure to hit the ground running, not just at work, but also socially. Rather than forge ahead alone, I’ve found that calling on my established networks has provided me with a steadiness when other parts of my life can feel chaotic. What I’ve learned is to gradually branch out, while simultaneously remaining in contact with my roots. Patience is a virtue.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

Expect the unexpected. As I am writing in quarantine, I would be remiss not to touch on the effects of a pandemic disease on higher education. Few of us expected a virus would uproot higher education and society. Regardless of how instructors feel about teaching remotely, that prospect lies on the horizon. We can have the best-laid plans for a semester, outlining clear learning objectives with activities and lectures that support those objectives. But now, in less than a week, we must have transferred those objectives and our methods to a different format, a format that neither student nor professor self-selected. The rest of this semester will be like no other. This article is not about COVID-19’s impacts on higher education. Many of those articles will be written; rather I write about reflection and growth. What I’ve learned is that the educational system, students, faculty, staff, and administrators, are working hard, not just for this academic year, but as vital parts of a broad community. We are a community college. Especially now, we do not know what the future holds, yet I’ve learned that we are resilient, not only as individuals, but also as a community. Patience is a (community) virtue.

Matthew Kalos is a tenure-track instructor of anthropology at Brookdale Community College where he teaches classes in anthropology, archaeology, and human geography. His research focuses on the archaeology of the American Revolution.

Barbara Jones is contributing editor for the SACC section news column.

Cite as: Kalos, Matthew. 2020. “One Year Down and a Lifetime to Go.” Anthropology News website, July 21, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1464

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