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Have you ever heard anyone use the “flight attendant speech” as a rationale for self-care? First put on your own oxygen mask, and then assist those around you.
That illustration—which has nearly attained the status of cliché—came to my mind this weekend as I attended a conference focused on student success: students are more likely to succeed in our classrooms when we attend to the needs of those who teach and support them. I learned, for example, about resources related to ADHD and autism (such as Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman), not only because they would illuminate the struggles of my students, but also because I have co-workers with autism or ADHD. It was a subtle shift, to be sure, but I heard this refrain again and again: the support and accommodations we design for students should extend to instructors, tutors, success coaches, counselors, and testing coordinators—these needs don’t “expire” when the diploma is earned.
Work in higher education may abound with insecurities:
“I couldn’t afford the conference hotel—we had to find a cheaper place.”
“Our co-presenter made a video—she lost her funding for the conference.”
“These are great ideas, but I am not allowed to make any changes to the online course assignments or prompts. Even if it’s not working for my students, I can’t alter any course components.”
“I was diagnosed with autism as an adult—and I was not sure what would happen if the people I work with found out.”
“The room is so bright—and I can’t dim the lights. I am always on the verge of a migraine.”
“I can’t tell them about my chronic pain or request accommodations. I am lucky to have a job, and I can’t risk it.”
“I can’t say no to the overload, even though the pay barely covers my extra child-care and travel.”
“I generally pack a bag with toilet paper, paper towels, and a ream of printing paper—I can’t count on there being any when I get to campus.”
“They tell me I must teach online to keep the job, but I don’t have reliable internet at home.”
“They said our restrooms are ADA compliant, but only about a few of them actually are. I have to take an elevator up two floors to get to the restroom that I can use with my wheelchair—and someone is constantly putting signs and boxes in the hallway outside that restroom.”
And of course, there are the realities of political scrutiny in higher education, efforts to undermine academic freedom or tenure protections, and added burdens for faculty to ensure student success or achieve metrics of productivity. Moreover, policy decisions about developmental education and corequisite instruction are often made in accordance with narratives (even false narratives, as Alexandros Goudas has carefully documented over the past decade) that are far removed from our daily work with students. After over 15 years in community colleges, I know the feeling of being at the tail end of a very long chain, with no voice to speak truth—the reality of our classrooms—to those in power.
I am sure most of you do not need me to point out the precarious conditions of our labor—conditions some of you may be dealing with daily. You well know how these conditions affect our students’ learning. But I needed the reminder this past weekend.
How are you addressing insecurities facing colleagues at your institution?
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