The following interview with professors Jami Blaauw-Hara of North Central Michigan College and Mark Blauuw-Hara of the University of Toronto-Mississauga was conducted via email in August of 2022. This is the third of four parts.
David Starkey: You’ve both published quite a bit in books and scholarly journals. Why do you think that’s an important activity for working teachers? It can obviously be incredibly demanding for two-year college faculty, where scholarship often is not only unrewarded, it’s sometimes looked down upon, as a distraction from classroom teaching.
Jami Blaauw-Hara: There is so little support for scholarly work at the community college level! My dean announces faculty publications in emails, but this was often met with some amount of side-eye from colleagues for trying so hard. Since the community college is not oriented around producing original scholarship, I often need to convince administration and colleagues that I have knowledge in a particular area because I have published on it. Using teaching lore to inform practice more than scholarship is strong at community colleges. I also understand the struggle. At my school, we teach 15 credits per semester, except for summer, and many add overload onto that. We are rewarded more for taking on overload than we are for the time spent writing articles. However, scholarship has been invaluable in my teaching. I bring in drafts, discuss my roadblocks, share editor feedback, and help my students understand that writing is a highly detailed, interactive, reflexive process that changes you in the end. I believe I’m a better writing teacher for spending the time on scholarship, even if it’s just to share how writing scares me too!
Mark Blaauw-Hara: There are three main reasons that I think publishing and presenting regularly is important for two-year college faculty. First of all, and probably most importantly, putting a publication or presentation together forces you to examine what you’re doing in the classroom and articulate why you do it. That leads to better practice. Secondly, I think it’s great to work with others in your department or across the country–we can learn from one another, and it builds a sense of community among two-year folks. It can be a lonely job otherwise. And thirdly, although I greatly appreciate it when four-year scholars write about the two-year context, we really need to be a part of that conversation as well. We shouldn’t just be written about–we need to have our own voices out there.
DS: Mark, you’re the author of From Military to Academy(Utah State, 2021), which focuses on the writing and learning experiences of student military veterans. What are some of the main lessons you learned from writing the book?
MBH: I wrote that book because I like working with student veterans, and I myself wanted to understand them better. One of the main things I learned is that they come to college with some very important strengths that they developed in the military, and those strengths can help them in college. For example, they are great at achieving clearly defined missions, and they actually have quite a bit of experience with reading and writing, it’s just that in the military, writing tends to be much more direct than in academia. If we can help them transfer those skills to college, we can set them up to be more successful. And for the record, I think we should approach all of our students similarly–instead of thinking that someone who has been out of school for awhile in the workforce, say, has a lot to make up, we should ask what strengths and skills they’ve developed that will help them in the classroom.
DS: And Jami, you’ve led the Reading Apprenticeship program at North Central. We hear so much talk about how writing instructors need to become better teachers of reading. What elements of the program are particularly conducive to making that happen?
JBH: Reading Apprenticeship (RA) was a part of our work as an Achieving the Dream college, so there was institutional support for the training we needed. For me, it transformed reading much like my participation in the National Writing Project (NWP) transformed writing. We were asked to return to our own reading and understand our strategies as readers and see ourselves as mentors for apprentice readers. It reminded me that reading skill goes far beyond the ability to decode words and made me aware of all that I bring to reading that my students don’t yet understand. Just like the NWP helped me focus on my own writing to inform how I teach writing, RA helped me focus on my own reading to inform how I teach reading. One strategy that really stuck with me is returning to a place of confusion by working on very challenging texts. When I was asked to read cellular microbiology, my strategies for reading became very clear to me. I was aware of practices I did not even realize that I use like reading context clues, looking at sentence structures, annotation, slowing down, and asking questions. If I talk about how I read, I can help my students understand how to read with purpose and skill. Just like I share my writing projects in progress, I share reading that initially leaves me flummoxed and what strategies I used to understand it.