Why teach at a community college?

I started teaching at community colleges in 2001 — just a little while before 9/11.  I’d just finished my MA in Philosophy from UNL, so I met the minimum requirements for the job.

In 2010 I finished my PhD at UNL, and soon after came the questions… more or less they all came down to ‘now that you’re Dr. Patty, when will you start teaching at a “real” / “grown up” college?’

The answer is the same now as it was 6 years ago — I DO teach at a “real” college.  I teach real college classes, to real college students.  Further, for many of my students, I’m their only philosophy course, and probably one of two or maybe three humanities courses in their degree.

That means I get to introduce my students to the wonder that is philosophy… I say that without any sarcasm :).  Really, it’s an amazing honor to be able to discuss the ideas that are, arguably, the basis for western civilization and modern thinking with students for their first time.

One of my favorite things is when an ethics student writes something like, ‘I used to think X, but now I think not-X after reading for this unit’.  It tells me I’m actually teaching them something, or exposing them to ideas they might not have seen on their own.

In Logic, those are the lightbulb moments, the moment where the student really SEES the logic, how the problem works, how they have the tools to solve the problem, and how they aren’t “dumb” or “bad at math-like things”.

My students have challenges of all kinds.  Some of those challenges are directly related to their academic preparation for college, but mostly those challenges only indirectly impact their work.  I’ve had students with immigration challenges, deaths of immediate family members, language challenges, big financial hurdles, and just about every other kind of challenge related to privilege you could imagine.

My students are also all kinds of brilliant — at their best, they combine life experience with theory and come up with new ways to think about old material.  Usually, they aren’t exactly on that level, but they make amazing progress from ‘WTF is Philosophy, anyway’ to applying theory to real problems.

It’s no cliche to say that they often teach me more about life than I teach them.  I’ve seen amazing determination, problem solving skills, and motivation from my students.  I’ve also seen my students go on to do amazing things in life, and I’m fortunate that they want to keep in touch with me after leaving campus.

I also work with some really wonderful colleagues, and my current administration is pretty good, in that they leave us alone to teach — and, really, you can’t ask for more than that.

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1 Comment

Filed under Academia / college life

One response to “Why teach at a community college?

  1. JC Davis

    I cannot love this post enough!

    Thank you for teaching.

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