Why Professional Development Matters, a guest blog by Lydia Snow

From Founder of ‘Junct Rebellion and “The Homeless Adjunct” blog, Debra Leigh Scott:

As many of you know, “The Homeless Adjunct” is the blog of ‘Junct Rebellion, which is an organization founded to raise awareness of the many ways in which the corporate colonization of academia in the U.S.  (and now in the other parts of the world where the “American system” has been adopted). It is part of a larger effort that includes the filming of a documentary called ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. in America, and a companion book of the same name.   The difficulty of trying to do a lot at one time means that our blog here sits for long stretches of time with no new posts. So, we’ve decided that the community would be better served if we open the blog up to other voices who will join us as guest bloggers.

 

Lydia Snow

Lydia Snow

Our first guest blogger is Lydia Snow, Co-Director of Women Composer’s Concert for the past three years, and made her professional career as a musician in Chicago as a choral singer.  She was a professional member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus for ten years and has appeared as a soloist and choral singer with Ars Musica Chicago, the Northshore Choral Society, the James Chorale, Basically Bach and other area church and synagogue choirs She’s taught Vocal Music and general education courses at Northeastern for 10 years, and recently has become involved in the Adjunct Labor Movement and helped organize a Teach In at NEIU last February on National Adjunct Walkout Day. She has been active in Faculty Forward Chicago unionizing efforts at the University of Chicago and more recently Loyola University.

If you would like to follow her on Facebook, she can be found here.”

A typical day's white board for Lydia's class

A typical day’s white board for Lydia’s class

 

WHY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT MATTERS by Lydia Snow

One morning, I received a mass email from an unknown university music educator which I scanned quickly. As I felt my stomach tighten I promptly deleted it. Later that same day, I retrieved the email and read it more closely, trying to understand my reaction:

“Good Morning Illinois Music Teacher Educators!

With a little over a week to go until the Illinois Music Education Conference (IMEC), I wanted to reach out to everyone and share some of the exciting MTE related events planned for the conference. I have attached a handy MTE and Collegiate schedule to help assist you in planning your time at IMEC.”

It has been ten years since I have been able to attend this conference, or any music educator conference workshop, or any professional development meeting with fellow university music educators. I am an adjunct; I can’t afford what it costs to attend these events. I am an adjunct; my university offers no financial assistance so that I can take advantage of professional development opportunities.

 

I went through my week of teaching plagued by dead weight within me. My tenured colleagues bustled through their week. I heard them in the hallways, talking about meeting up at the conference hotel with colleagues. They planned how to distribute the brochures needed for recruiting the high school students who were coming from all over the state. Even the music students gathered in clusters talking about carpools, who was rooming with whom, what time they should gather after class, what time they hoped to get to Peoria for the opening sessions. My mind kept returning to that email, and I continued to push my feelings down.

I thought again and again of the sentence that cut through me the deepest, the one that caused me to delete it.

“This year our special MTE guest is Susan Conkling, chair of the Society for Music Teacher Educators, and professor of music education at Boston University. Susan will be chairing two panel discussions for all MTE members. The first one will be looking at issues of equity and inclusion within music education.”

Equity? Inclusion? It is the use of those words that cuts me deeply. But the injurious information continued:

Finding Balance: Jacki Kelly-McHale will chair a discussion on the other side of life in the academy. How do we find the time to be teachers, researchers, parents, and active members of university and local communities? Jacki will present some strategies to help find a better balance, but the larger issue of how to build support through a higher education community across the state will also be discussed.”

In a two-tiered academic workplace, contingent faculty do not find balance. We keep our heads down, we show up to class, we do our jobs, we dare not talk about the issues we suffer. Inclusion, finding balance, how to build support through a higher education community? What does it say about our profession that our conferences offer workshops on the very issues plaguing 75% of its faculty – the same part of the faculty not invited to the conference? Contingent faculty cannot present at the conferences, because contingent faculty can’t afford to attend the conferences.

Early on in my awakening as an adjunct activist, I discovered twitter and found #AdjunctChat a weekly group that quickly became an important part of my professional development. There is a moderator who poses specific teaching challenges; adjuncts exchange their experiences, and brainstorm solutions in a supportive environment. I learned a lot from these exchanges, I started to understand that I was not alone experiencing the isolation and desperate need to connect with other educators.

Another twitter conversation took place with a group called #realacademicbios. This one included tenure stream faculty and adjuncts. I was intrigued, but also skeptical. So I test the waters by tweeting about my teaching situation, the ten years of not attending the IMEA or IMEC, of not being incuded or invited or funded. Out of nowhere a tenured professor, obviously young and trying to be supportive tweeted back: “Why are you waiting to be invited? Isn’t this a conference/mem org? Join and go. #Lean in

I was infuriated! How could anyone be so naïve as to think that I could just pick up and leave my classes for two days to attend a conference for which I have neither financial assistance nor legitimate, professional welcome? Why must this inequality and ruinous professional abuse constantly be explained to a clueless full-time faculty?

I long for a way to attend these conferences. More than that, I know how crucial it is to travel, refuel, collaborate, imagine; our continued growth in our profession depends on these opportunities.

For those who are tenured and do get to attend these conferences, who do have a chance to do research and publish and talk about your work in groups, who feel validated as professionals, who feel a sense of belonging, who get to schmooze and go to the parties afterward the work is done, you are provided with chances to remember why the hell you care about your discipline, to have that passion reawakened.

This isn’t true for those of us for whom the way is barred. I used to look forward to teaching. I am passionate about it. Actually I’ve been passionate about it my entire working life, and to me it is a whole lot more than a job. I teach because it matters to me in the most essential way that could be described in words.

 

The students in my World Music class were very attentive this week. I felt as if I was on the edge of some understanding. After teaching this class for many years I find myself stepping back from the anxiety and stepping into the heart of the teaching art. I create lesson plans that allow group work and heated discussions in class. We sit in a circle and I tell them I no longer want to be called Professor Snow, but Lydia. At first they seem perplexed, but many stay after class to exchange ideas and ask questions about the music we both decide to explore in the next meeting. We discuss Indian music in a way that deepens my own understanding of every aspect of its performance and history. I am falling off a cliff here because I am allowing myself to let my students lead us. I have decided it’s more important to be honest in my exchanges with them. Why did I allow this vague sense of complete ignorance on a daily basis invade my confidence when it came to explaining Hindustani and Carnatic classical traditions and history and their influence on other culture’s music as well? I no longer need to offer excuses to myself. I have done the best I could under extraordinarily bad circumstances. I decide to accept what I have to offer them in the classroom.

In my general education classes there was a stillness and quietness I don’t remember experiencing the first weeks of teaching music concepts. They seem almost spellbound in class and I find my heart beating faster with the weight of all they want from me, the professor of music education. I try my best to introduce time signatures, dotted notes, even divisions of the beat. After class I gather up my drums, mallets, beat cards, lap top, textbooks, staff paper, handouts for the ones who can’t afford the textbooks, recorders for those who haven’t purchased them or left them in their car. I come prepared to teach. I refuse to let them stare into space when I introduce these basic concepts of music theory. It hurts too much to see their blank faces with nothing to hold onto. I make them write the notes on blank staff paper, I go around to check to see their work. Many are looking at phones, scrolling through Instagram. I just tap on the blank paper. “You need to try to make the shapes of the notes, it will help when you do your homework.” They smile, push the phones aside, “Do you have a pencil?” one student asks. “Of course!” and out it pops in my other hand. I come prepared because I want my students to learn how to read music.

If anyone wanted to know what inclusion means I could take photographs of my students composing music the last weeks of the semester. I could show videos of the process as they put together the building blocks of reading rhythms, playing recorder, building chords, and work together to compose counter rhythms under each of their sections. As a class we put all their melodies together and then I let the students decide how to weave them together through different musical forms. We record them and then go back and rework it as a group of 35-40 people. Playing the class composition is the highlight of my semester because the students enjoy it so much, and everyone is included. I try to grab music education students to help me with the process and sometimes they come and help, but mostly I do this on my own. So, yes, I do understand the importance of inclusion, in respecting the potential of each student and not being willing to waste it. But after ensuring inclusion to my students, I sit in my classroom after class exhausted, and stare out the window; I wonder how I will gather the steam to pack up and trudge down to gather my things and go home.

If, even in this most depleted state, I can assure my students equal treatment and support, how is it that the university can’t guarantee the same equal support and inclusion to its faculty? If I treated my class the way the university treats its faculty, 75% of them would be denied desks, materials, computer equipment, instruments. 75% of them would struggle, and fall short, not because of their own lack of desire, intent or ability, but because it is the inevitable outcome of inequality.

Without having a chance to take part in professional development opportunities, to attend conferences, to offer presentations in these discussion groups, to ask important questions, I have lost my drive and my inner voice. I can no longer find the will to teach without summoning up such great reserves of energy that I literally want to go to sleep after teaching. Teaching no longer energizes me, it depletes me. None of the traditional ways that a scholar replenishes energy, restores inspiration, grows and develops their area of specialty are open to contingents. We are expected to perform our teaching duties without any of these necessary supports, without the ability to develop professionally, to restore ourselves. If 75% of our students were denied the necessities of development, everyone would understand what a travesty that is, and what a horrible outcome that would cause. Isn’t it equally obvious that denying our faculty the necessary supports and development opportunities is a travesty?

I wanted to share this with you, so you can understand the depth of depletion of the contingent faculty in higher education. It is affecting the teaching conditions of this majority faculty, thereby leeching the core energy required to power the classes for students in all disciplines. I am not alone. There are at least 1.5 million other university faculty out there who one day wake up and say, “I don’t have it in me to do this anymore.” We are the majority faculty of American higher education. We desperately need to be supported in our chosen disciplines because this is how we stay alive in the classroom, and without it, we fall down. All of us fall down, our students fall down, our society falls down. Our universities fall down. We need to rise, and we need to do it with a determination to never let our profession be knocked to the ground again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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