Wednesday, February 8, 2012


OPEN LETTER TO DR. LILY TERCERO

Dr. Lily Tercero
President Texas Southmost College,

A COMMUNITY COLLEGE VERSUS A UNIVERSITY

I know the difference between a community college because I taught at Houston Community College for three years, and have graduated UT El Paso, UT Arlington twice- MEd, and MA Political Science, and University of Houston - JD.

A community college is not a university.  A community college has a mandate to prepare students for the university, provide job training, and continuing education.  Its instructors should rise or fall on their ability to teach, and not on research, or publish or perish.

A community college classroom is smaller in size than a university classroom.  A community college instructor teaches more than their subject matter.  They also teach how to learn and test in a university environment.  A community college instructor must assume the students do not know how to take notes, write essay exams, engage in critical thinking, or prepare for exams.  A good instructor incorporates each of these things into their instruction.  I did it as a government instructor without compromising the quality of instruction, so I know it can be done.

OUR NEED FOR JOB TRAINING

While it is important that our students be prepared to move on to the university, it is equally important that our students be trained for the modern workforce.  In my view, the decision for mass education which grew out of the 60's was a mistake.  The university is not for everyone.  I graduated in 4 years with 151 credit hours.  Today we are lucky to get students to graduate in 6 years with 124 credit hours.  We must rethink the need for a 4 year degree, while also finding a way to include critical thinking and problem solving into basic job training programs.

More and more manufacturing is returning to the US because of robotics.  I buy plastic, glass and socks all made in the US.  How is this possible?  Manufactures are moving to robotics as a substitute for manual labor.  These are good paying jobs.  Yes it is true Brownsville has no immediate need for such a workforce.  This view is short sided.  If we train our students in robotics, the manufacturing jobs will come.  Until then our students will have the option of experiencing other places to live than Brownsville.  This is part of growing up and a good thing.

It saddens me that our local leaders continue to fail to push Texas to make the growing of hemp easier.  I personally think hemp has the potential to be a billion dollar industry.  If this were to ever happen a trained workforce in robotics could prove key to massive economic growth in our area.  Until then we must have the foresight to train our students for future jobs.  Robotics is just one area where there is room for growth.  http://www.industrialhemp.net/mfg.html

If our local leadership ever comes to understand the economic engine the airport can become we will need workers in aviation repair.  For now our students can get the training locally and then move on to other cities.  Again it is not a bad thing if our students have to move away after their job training.  It will benefit Brownsville to have our students move away and then eventually come back with new ideas for Brownsville.  In the meanwhile Brownsville will gain the reputation of producing quality workers in the area of robotics and aviation repair.  It just may encourage a plant to relocate to Brownsville once they see what our students are doing for them in North Carolina, for example.  Maybe it could mean a new automotive plant.  As the economy improves new manufacturing plants will need to be built.  Will Brownsville be ready?

INSTRUCTION

TSC must start from scratch.  The UTB instructors are not prepared to teach at the community college level.  If they are hired for TSC they will continue with the same failed teaching techniques which brought us to this point.  In this job market PhD's and master degree candidates are a dime a dozen.  There is no reason why TSC  cannot use this unique opportunity in  time to hire new instructors with fresh ideas.

All department heads must be qualified in the difference between a community college and university.  The instructors must understand they are not being hired to teach at a university.  They must be made to know there is no place  for anyone at TSC who does not understand the difference between a community college and a university.

A community college instructor must assume the students do not know how to take notes, write essay exams, engage in critical thinking, or prepare for exams. A good instructor incorporates each of these things into their instruction. I did it as a government instructor without compromising the quality of instruction, so I know it can be done.

My students went on to be doctors, lawyers and scientists. My students learned, while most received an A or B in the course.  This was not withstanding the fact I only gave essay exams including a comprehensive final.  Students who could not write a sentence when they entered my classroom produced solid "A" final exams.  How?  We had a simple agreement, trust that I will teach you and not just judge you, and you will get an A while learning.  My greatest sense of accomplishment would come semesters later when a student would tell me my note taking, studying and test preparation techniques are what got them through chemistry or biology.  A real teacher can teach any subject.

TEXTBOOKS

In the area of social sciences there is no reason why the department chairs cannot create online textbooks which interact with their instruction.  Using a government web page I created the following chapter in a government textbook.   http://www.docstoc.com/docs/37935559/Texas

There is no reason why this cannot be done in every social science subject.  This would create a great source of savings for the students.  TSC can become a first rate and very affordable community college if we just put our minds to it.

SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS

We known Brownsville has a lot of adults who never got the help they needed while at BISD.  Some graduated, some did not.  At issue for all of them is an inability to learn in a traditional setting.  A community college has many mandates.  A key mandate is job training.  In order to meet this mandate for all the residents within the TSC taxing authority, TSC must hire a diagnostician to test adults for learning disabilities.  Many possible findings could result in the adult being provided special accommodations in the classroom and in testing.  No community through policy should relegate an entire class of its residents to poverty.  Just because someone cannot learn  through traditional methods does not mean they cannot learn.  Everyone deserves a chance at meaningful job training.

One adult I tried to help did well in all of the prerequisite courses to go on to learn to be a radiologist.  He had to start with a host of reading, writing and math courses before he could move on to regular  courses.  He cleared the basic medical training courses.  But then came anatomy and physiology.  This course is actually not very hard.  With each lecture we prepared study cards.  Before the test he could answer over 140 of the questions on the 150 index cards.  These questions included how a cell forms.  He was able to demonstrate a substantive understanding of the material well beyond answering the questions.  He then took the test and got a 40 something.  He cannot test with multiple choice exams.  Had he been given an oral exam I am  certain he would have received an "A."

The bottom line is, TSC must find a way to educate everyone who is truly willing to learn, regardless of learning style.  Not everyone can be an engineer.  But this does not mean we cannot find a way to provide job training to learning disabled adults.  They can learn.  Everyone deserves a chance at a good paying job.  We must see this as a human right.

PART TWO ON WEDNESDAY OR THURSDAY

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for advocating for everyone that needs help learning. Hopefully, it will not fall on deaf ears with our politicians.

Anonymous said...

I missed this in February as I was out of town. This is a beautiful letter. My husband is in the millright business and all of your comments on training for the return of manufacturing to our area is absolutely correct.

I totally agree that a really good teacher can teach almost any subject. The "teacher" who knows everything there is to know about his subject may in fact be the worst teacher. I vividly remember the good teachers that I fortunately had all the way through Jr. High, High School and college.

Thank you so much for publishing your insightful thoughts.