East Los Angeles College: Teaching Developmental and First Year Composition to Latin@s in the Community College

Main entrance at the main campus. (Image from the ELAC website)

Main entrance at the main campus.
(Image from the ELAC website)

East Los Angeles College is one of the nine public community colleges in the Los Angeles Community College District. It was established in 1945 and now is located on 82 acres in Monterey Park (a suburb that is six miles from the Los Angeles Civic Center) and in satellite campuses in South Gate and Rosemead. The college serves fourteen diverse communities (Alhambra, Bell, Bell Gardens, City of Commerce, Cudahy, East Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Los Angeles, Maywood, Montebello, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel, South Gate and Vernon) and enrolls more than 40,000 students every semester; it offers both academic transfer courses (which prepare students for admission to four-year colleges and universities) and occupational programs (which prepare students for careers).

I observed the teaching of two classes and interviewed professors at the South Gate Educational Center. The South Gate Educational Center opened in 1997 to better serve the students in the Huntington Park area. Historically, the Center has aimed to “reach out to those who are unable to attend the ELAC main campus in Monterey Park for various reasons, including distance and lack of transportation.” The large building on Firestone Boulevard has 24 classrooms, a computer lab, book store, library, and office for student support services. Both academic and career courses are offered at the center. There is a free shuttle that transports students to and from the main campus. Special programs available at the Center include ESL/Citizenship courses, Teach Program, LEAP Program and the new John Delloro Program in Social Justice, a two-year thematic transfer program (which includes the option of spending a winter study abroad in Amsterdam).

ELAC’s Mission Statement: East Los Angeles College empowers students to achieve their educational goals, to expand their individual potential, and to successfully pursue their aspirations for a better future for themselves, their community and the world.

  • Goal 1: Increasing student success and academic excellence through student-centered instruction, student-centered support services, and dynamic technologies.
  • Goal 2: Increasing equity in successful outcomes by analyzing gaps in student achievement and using this to identify and implement effective models and programming to remedy these gaps.
  • Goal 3: Sustaining community-centered access, participation, and preparation that improves the college’s presence in the community, maximizes access to higher education and provides outlets for artistic, civic, cultural, scientific and social expression as well as environmental awareness.
  • Goal 4: Ensuring institutional effectiveness and accountability through data-driven decision-making as well as evaluation and improvement of all college programs and governance structures.

In collaboration with the District’s Mission, ELAC is committed to advancement in student learning and student achievement that prepares students to transfer, successfully complete workforce development programs, earn associate degrees, and pursue opportunities for lifelong learning and civic engagement.

ELAC’s Vision Statement: Through our emerging focus on student-centered instruction, student-centered services, and integrated learning, East Los Angeles College will be an exemplary model for student academic achievement, skill development, and artistic expression.

The college’s written (in the catalog) stance on diversity is conveyed in at least three places:

  • ELAC’s General Education Philosophy statement declares: “Furthermore, we encourage our students to appreciate and value multiple perspectives and backgrounds so that they can participate successfully in an increasingly diverse global community.”
  • The District’s Guiding Principles says the following about access and opportunity: “We are committed to expanding educational opportunity and access to everyone who has the desire to learn, and we welcome all students, including those from communities that have been traditionally underserved.”
  • The Power of Diversity: “We embrace diversity as a central part of our civic and institutional identity and as a powerful element in the education and develop- ment of every individual.”

Students at ELAC are mostly Latinos, but Asians (e.g., Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos) make up a large majority. ELAC’s College Profile and Data Book for 2012-2013, its most recent published data, details the student ethnic profile in 2011: African American 1.9%; Asian/Pacific Islander 16.1%; Hispanic/Latino 76.6%; Caucasian 2.2%; multi-ethnic .5%. Data for the 2013-2014 academic year listed in the CA State Chancellor’s website states that 54,613 students were registered at ELAC: of that total, 34,436 were Latin@s (63+%). The second largest group consisted of 6,487 Asians (12%). There were only 2,400 African Americans (.4%). To my knowledge, there is no published analysis or explanation for why there is a seeming decrease in the number of Latin@s.

Courses at ELAC are offered in semester-long, short term, face-to-face, online, television modes, and during weekend college and night schedules. The Etudes and Moodle learning management systems are used to deliver online and hybrid/blended courses and to augment face-to-face classes.

The college has two bridge programs that service Latin@s in their aim to succeed in writing:

  • The Adelante First Year Experience is committed to the educational success of students. Adelante is a comprehensive program involv- ing student services, linked courses, a stimulating learning environ- ment, and committed faculty which together provide all Adelante first-year students with the very best opportunities to succeed in transferring to a four-year university.
  • The Puente Project’s mission is to increase the number of education- ally underserved students who enroll in four-year colleges and uni- versities, earn degrees, and return to the community as leaders and mentors to future generations. Puente provides students with English instruction, academic advising and mentoring.

poppyThe ELAC English Department website states: “Speaking and writing good English are the hallmarks of an educated person. English, whether in traditional essay format or in reports, is used in every field. Researchers, scientists, and even mathematicians need to express their ideas and results in written form. American society and economic vitality is a result of educating people with many different backgrounds communicating using a common language. To understand ourselves and the world around us, reading and interpreting college level books is essential. Mastering spoken and written English is the key to a career, success in college, and essential to transferring to a university.” The English Department offers an Associate in Arts Degree.

The 2015-2016 ELAC catalog lists these objectives for courses in the English Department:

  • To help the student to develop the skills required in such careers as social work, teaching, library science, law, journalism, pub- lishing, advertising, writing, public relations, civil service, sales, management, and any other careers which require facility in writing.
  • To help the student to broaden his or her understanding of self and others through the study of language and literature.
  • To help the student enjoy and appreciate literature.
  • To provide courses which satisfy the needs of the foreign-speak- ing student; of the student desiring developmental work; of the two-year student working for an Associate degree; and of the student planning to transfer to a four-year college or university.

I observed teaching of their pre-collegiate and freshman writing courses.

English 28 Intermediate Reading and Composition is described as follows: 3 units, prerequisite:  Acceptable level of skill as demonstrated in the English placement process or satisfactory completion of English 21 or English as a Second Language 6A. Advisory: Reading 29. Lecture, 3 hours. In this course, students plan, draft, revise, and edit compositions of increasing sophistication and complexity, progressing from multi-paragraph 750-word essays to essays of 1000 words that reference classroom texts as well as personal experience in support of a clearly delineated thesis statement. Writing is based on readings which cover topics that challenge the students’ thinking and provide an intellectual background for the assignments. Readings, discussion, and writing assignments may focus on fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and/or poetry.

English 101 College Reading and Composition I is described as follows: 3 units, UC:CSU IGETC Area 1A (C-ID ENGL 100), Prerequisite: Acceptable level of skill as demonstrated in the English placement process or satisfactory completion of English 28 or English as a Second Language 8. Advisory: Reading 101. Lecture, 3 hours. This is a college-level freshman composition course which focuses on expository writing and argumentation and requires the writing of a minimum of 6000 words in essays and a research paper. Students study a variety of texts written at the college level, including literature, that re ect current academic concerns relating to issues of language, ethnicity, class, gender, identity, psychology, and cultural studies.

During my visit to the ELAC South Gate Educational Center, I observed the teaching of English 28 Intermediate Reading and Composition, and English 101 College Reading and Composition. After I observed each of the classes, I interviewed the two professors teaching each class.

The entrance. (Photo by DMG)

The entrance at the ELAC South Gate Educational Center. (Photo by DMG)

The section of English 28 Intermediate Reading and Composition I observed is being taught by a full-time tenured Latino professor. On the day I observed (during the ninth week of the sixteen-week spring semester), there were 28 (out of 30 registered in the class) students, all of them (according to the professor) Latino. The classroom was large and light-filled. Desk chairs were arranged in rows; at a corner work station, there was a desk, desktop computer,  and in the center of the room there was a roll-down screen, speakers hanging from the ceiling, and a podium. At the end of the session, I surmised that the aim for the day was to inventory the lessons learned so far; to complete several journal entries; to discuss how to embed quotes; to practice paraphrasing; to discuss how to organize their essay #4; and to talk about “writing for different purposes.”

This professor’s syllabus lists three required texts: The International Story: An Anthology with Guidelines for Reading and Writing about Fiction by Ruth Spack; Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives an inspirational short novel by Dan Millman; and Rules for Writers and handbook by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. It also lists the Course Learning Outcomes:

  • CLO 1: Grammar and Mechanics–Students will apply advanced knowledge of persistent and complex grammar/mechanics (such as fragments, run-ons and parallel structure) to edit and extended essay.
  • CLO 2: Analytical Close Reading–Students will compose an analytical essay that critiques the thesis or central theme or a text based on a close reading of the work’s rhetorical and/or literary techniques.
  • CLO 3: Composition–Students will compose an essay with an effective introduction and a strong positional thesis that is supported by body paragraphs that include textual evidence, and finish with a conclusion that not only summarizes main points but reflects the larger topic raised in the introduction.

His syllabus also clarifies that students in this class are expected to consistently compose journal entries (which may include drawings) in response to specific prompts, to listen to lectures, participate in panel presentations, and contribute to small group discussion. Everyone is to take notes using only pencil/pen and paper (no laptops, mobile phones or iPods are allowed). Students are expected to read every week (e.g., “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin, “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant, “Araby” by James Joyce, “Judge’s Wife” by Isabel Allende, “No Face” by Junot Diaz, and during the week I visited, “Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe).

When I entered the classroom, students were talking easily; each had his/her name written on a piece of paper and propped on his/her desk chair. The professor stood at the front and greeted everyone. He asked that they take out their journals and begin composing entry #30-1; “Let’s title it ‘Things I Learned,'” he said. Students were to jot the three strategies they learned in the class that took their writing “to the next level.” While students wrote, the professor took attendance and requested that those who had been absent previously come up to his desk so that he could give each the handouts he had distributed then. (Four students went up.)

Next, he called on students and asked that they recite what they’d written in their journals. Fernando said, “better understanding of grammar, like apostrophe.” Celeste said, “the quotation integration assignment,” and the professor answered, “that’s right; don’t walk away from the quote, and use little phrases like ‘by this act, this passage indicates, this statement confirms. Ask a neighbor if they knew an expression like that before this class.” Students talked for a minute, and the professor called on Eduardo who said, “I learned why it is important to learn to use the apostrophe correctly.” The professor said, “remember, I tried to shame you into understanding that they teach that in second grade.” Some people laughed. Then Cesar said, “difference between minor words and major words.” The professor added, “prepositions, coordinators, paraphrasing… how to get rid of wordiness, and how to be clear.” Carmen said, “how to vary my sentence openings.”

Then the professor said, “now, do journal entry #30-2 for today; call it ‘Helen Keller Quotation.'” He asked a student to read the quotation (which he had given them during the previous meeting) and he wrote it on the board: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.” Next, the professor walked around the room and asked students to turn to journal entry #20 and to review their notes about paraphrasing. He asked: “how long should a paraphrase be? The same length as the quote?” Students gave different answers. The professor asked that they take out their highlighters and that they underline four or five expressions in the Helen Keller quote, and then to find synonyms for those expressions. Students were to write the answers and subsequently share them with their neighbors. As they worked, the professor walked around to “feel [their] energy,” he said. Five minutes later, he turned to the board and underlined the worlds students called out: “suffering, soul be strengthened, success, achieved, character.”

He asked students to write synonyms for the underlined words, and to share with their neighbors. As they worked, the professor walked around and checked on them. Back at the front of the classroom, he used one side of the white board to write the words students called out: synonym for “suffering” = “adversity”; “painful experiences” = “struggle”; “soul be strengthened” = “inner strength”; “success” = “accomplishment”; “achieved” = “reached or attained.” When they got to the word “character”  students were not answering, thus the professor said, “ask a neighbor,” and when there were still no answers, he said, “personal virtues, honesty; how does that make you feel; ask your neighbor.” When he had filled that side of the board with synonyms, he smiled and said, “that lesson is worth $375; it’s part of your tuition fees.” Students laughed.

He said, “this is a big moment; you get to assemble; let me help you out.” He wrote on the board: “In other words, Keller believes that…” Students were to paraphrase the rest of the quote. As they wrote in their journals, the professor walked around. When the students stopped writing, the professor offered his own paraphrase and requested that they “ask a neighbor how that sounds.”

The professor asked that students take out their journals again and compose entry #31: “Call it ‘Paragraph Arrangement,'” he said. He wrote “paragraph arrangement” on the white board and said: “I want to give you strategies for organizing paragraphs in your essay number four.” He continued to write on the board, reviewing how they had arranged their previous essay comparing and contrasting short stories by James Joyce (“Araby”) and Anton Chekov (“A Trifle from Real Life”). He drew boxes representing the foundational five paragraph essay organization and then reminded students of how they had laid out their comments about the stories’ main theme, “adolescents and change.” Then, on one side of the board he drew a caterpillar, and on the other side a butterfly: “Ask a neighbor if she’s lost [in this lesson],” he said. Students murmured.

“Now,” the professor said, “with essay number four, on suffering, I’m going to suggest a different way to organize. [Essay four was based on Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace.”) You know what to do in the first paragraph, the introduction. In the second paragraph you’ll write about losing face; in the third paragraph you’ll write about Mathilde and how she feels about the necklace; in the fourth paragraph, and here’s the new way, talk about if the characters suffer; prove that the characters suffer; prove it in every paragraph of your essay; prove it with evidence, with examples from the story. Then write about which one suffers more. Ask a neighbor if this makes sense. Next week I’ll give you a presentation on classification.”

Then he said, “take out your journal notes about the reading you did last week. You need your highlighter. Start journal #32; title it ‘Effective F2F communication.'” He drew two people on the board: “What makes it [communication] happen? We use words and what else? Confer with a neighbor. These are called paralinguistic cues.” He proceeded to talk about facial expressions, tone, attitude as “conveyed by voice volume,” eye contact, proximity, and body language. He said: “What a repository of strategies–a good word for college!–to emphasize the importance of what we’re saying. Ask a neighbor if they’re lost. What does this have to do with writing?” Students murmured. He continued: “If you use this for F2F [conversation], what strategies do you use when you write? How do you shout or whisper in writing?” A student answers: “sentence variety” and he says, “no.”

“Let’s take it to the next level,” he said; “[write] Roman numeral two.” He wrote on the board: “II. Emphasis.” He said: “I’m going to give you two sentences: ‘Britney Spears is a lousy mother. She is a brilliant self-promoter.’ These sentences are shouting because they’re independent sentences? They’ve been trying to teach you that since middle school.” Then the professor began to talk about writing for different purposes: “Do you remember the lesson on superman? Clark Kent, kryptonite weakens Superman. Ask a neighbor if they understand this.” He waited a moment then said: “There are words in the English language that are kryptonite. If you put them next to other words they weaken, they whisper. Do you know what they are?” He joked that he would tell them the next week, but students laughed and said they wanted to know then. “They are called subordinators. They will whisper an idea. There are only thirteen of them. Here are the words,” but then he remained silent. One student said: “damn you’re a tease.” Everyone laughed and he said, “find them in your manual [Hacker’s Rules for Writers] on page 144, [they are] ‘after, although, before, because’; do you get this? Ask a neighbor.” One student said in a low voice, “no, I don’t get it.”

It was almost time for the class to end. The professor began to return their graded essay #2. He said: “I want to give a shout out to a couple of students; in essay one twenty-five people out of thirty-five failed. I give a shout out to people who failed or got a D in the first essay and now they did better, about eleven names. Give them a round of applause. Is it because they’re smart? Everyone here is smart. It’s because they worked hard.” He distributed the rest of the essays (as students left) reminding them that if they failed or earned a D they would have a chance to revise.

(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

Once students were gone, I spoke with this professor briefly, but since he had to teach another class, he kindly agreed to answer the questions in my survey and email them to me. This professor is very familiar with East LA; he began his journey in higher education by attending ELAC. Today he holds a Master’s degree in English and socio-linguistics and has been teaching writing at ELAC for 15 years (with the exception of one year he spent teaching writing at UCLA). Consequently, he feels free to tell his story as a way to motivate his students; he wants them to know that academic success depends on learning strategies (how to study and be prepared, for instance) and on being flexible enough to survive in and adjust to different worlds (the streets, academe, professional, familial). He teaches at least eight courses per year, but often times he teaches nine. He teaches half of those courses in face-to-face(F2F) mode and the other half online. He says that on a yearly basis 90% of students in his F2F classes are Latin@s; in his online classes 60% are Latin@s.

This professor is aware that students at ELAC, especially in the South Gate center, are among the most impoverished in the region, and that almost half of them speak English as a second language. Most don’t have family members who have attended college; and most have never read an entire novel. Almost half of the students at ELAC drop out after the first year; less than 10% transfer to four-year colleges. He said that he has “noticed that within the Latino student population there are more women enrolled compared to men.”

When I asked this professor to tell me about his experiences teaching writing to Latin@s in the community college, he said: “They desire to improve their academic writing skills, but this desire does not necessarily translate into specific productive study habits or classroom practices, unless the instructor uses innovative strategies coupled with connections to the real world. Immediate and constant feedback (and it can be constructive criticism) is most effective if the students feel and believe that the instructor cares about them and connects with them.” Then he compared his experiences teaching less underprepared students: “I taught for the UCLA writing program for a year as a lecturer in residence and I found no need to incorporate innovative strategies to achieve results; students there were sufficiently motivated and came equipped with the habits of mind essential for academic success.”

I asked him to tell me about his experiences teaching both pre-collegiate and freshman writing to Latin@s online, and he said that at ELAC he teaches in the same ways despite the level or mode of delivery: “I use the same approach with all students including in the online classroom.” He said that, of course, “the objectives of the courses are different,” and that “the students’ academic proficiency” is different too.

Student Services at the ELAC Educational Center. (Photo by DMG)

Student Services at the ELAC Educational Center. (Photo by DMG)

In this class session I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including sharing his academic history (and identifying the factors that allowed him to succeed) as a source of continual motivation; repetition of concepts and strategies; requiring that students talk to their peers; requiring that they compose organized journal entries/class notes; calling on students to affirm and echo the lessons being taught; asking rhetorical questions; moving about the classroom and getting close to students; lecturing; prescribing organization; and pacing activities briskly.

When I asked this professor to draw from his experience (teaching writing in the community college) to identify the three most important needs that must be met in order to improve Latino students’ rate of success, he said: “The following applies to Latino students in the developmental writing courses:

  • High expectations.
  • Constant feedback.
  • Clarity of instruction.

The following applies to Latino students in the transfer writing courses:

  • Instructors that have the empathy and the charisma to help students overcome the suspicion that Latino community college students have towards teachers.
  • Instructors that have the empathy and the charisma to help students overcome the self-doubt they many have about academic success.
  • Innovative strategies that engage students to see old material in different and meaningful ways.”
(Photo by DMG)

(Photo by DMG)

The section of English 101 College Reading and Composition that I observed is being taught by a part-time adjunct professor who has been teaching writing at ELAC for 20 years; in the last 22 years he has also been teaching ESL in the adult division of a high school in Los Angeles. On the day I observed (during the ninth week of the sixteen-week spring semester), there were 28 (out of 35 registered in the class) students, most of them seemingly Latino, three of them (I assumed from appearance and when the professor called their names) Vietnamese. The classroom was filled with about 40 desk chairs arranged in tight rows; at the front of the room there was a large wood desk, and behind it a roll-down screen and a large television. At the end of the session, I surmised that the aim for the day was to return graded essays and to discuss “Everyday Use,” a short story by Alice Walker.

This professor’s syllabus lists two required texts: The Story and its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction edited by Ann Charters and Short Shorts: An Anthology of the Shortest Stories edited by Irving Howe and Ilana Wiener Howe. Additionally, students are to read “topical, relevant international and domestic current events articles from major news media, as photocopied hand-outs. Critical thinking and reading skills, plus vocabulary, are honed and enhanced through these articles.” The syllabus also underscores that “major emphases are on reading and writing; grammar and structure are NOT regularly stressed.” The Course Learning Outcomes are listed as follows:

  • Students will demonstrate mastery of the college essay by composing an in-class final examination characterized by:
    • a clear thesis,
    • integration and analysis of evidence (sources),
    • coherent and adequate support (sources),
    • appropriate organization,
    • focused paragraphs with clear topic sentences,
    • MLA style strongly suggested.
    • Length: 900 to 1,200 words. Five to ten double-spaced pages in a blue/green book supplied by the student.

The professor and I entered the classroom together. I sat in the back and he walked to the front of the classroom and sat behind his desk. He announced that he was going to return graded essays: “There were three Fs but the people are not with us anymore, so that’s irrelevant.” He reminded students that he can’t accept late papers and then he wrote “Everyday Use” on the board. He talked about how he lived in Tennessee in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was there and “the black and white world started changing. Since then, other minorities came, and you’re part of this. In 1972 [a year before Walker published “Everyday Use”] there was no place like this; Southgate [Educational Center] is 3,000 people now; you are part of that changing world.”

He continued by explaining Walker’s story: “Her daughter [Maggie] is like many of you ladies. She didn’t go to college. Her other daughter [Dee] changed her name to Wangero. She sees the value of adapting–I don’t know how to say this–to the white culture, to the majority culture. Her mother was a poor black sharecropper. Dee is a hero to me. You don’t have to agree with me, but if you don’t agree, you’ll have to prove it to me. Maggie was not much.”

A student walked in the room and the professor said: “Try to get here on time. I get distracted very easily.” He stopped and said he would be giving back the graded essays, then he called out two students with Vietnamese names and asked “how is it that you say your names?” The students said their names and walked up to his desk to pick up their essays. The professor called a Spanish name; a young Latina went up to his desk, but the professor could not find her essay in his pile. After a minute of looking, he handed her the essay and said: “Take this to your seat; they’re all looking at your bottom, not at me.” She walked back in silence.

The professor then looked up from his pile of graded essays and said: “I noticed that around the ninth week people stop coming. Not a good idea. Remember that until May 8th we are married. I can’t drop you and you can’t drop, but I can flunk you.” As he started to return the essays again, he began to also talk about “Everyday Use”: “She [Alice Walker] is famous for The Color Purple. How does she term her feminism? Do you understand the question? Remember we read a one page introduction about her feminism?” There was silence and then the professor said: “I fancy her a feminist, but how does she term, how does she feel about her feminism? Look at the paragraph we read, the one in the middle. She is more concerned about women’s rights, not black lives matter. I’m not qualified to speak on that. I’m not a sociologist.”

There was silence and the professor spoke again: “My wife has a large Mexican American family and they’re coming home with black boyfriends and kids are mixed. They’re not marrying Mexicans. Two of my nephews married Latinas. I remember when I married a Latina–a lot of chisme in the family. My first wife was Protestant. Then I dated a Jew. My mother was upset. My second wife is Catholic but was a Methodist over in Arizona. This is multicultural: different colors, tastes, music, languages. That’s what you’re in, this duality, two cultures. I date in English but I cook in Spanish. It’s a mixed bag in Los Angeles in 2015.” There was silence.

Next the professor told students to look at page two of a handout (a photocopy of the summary of “Everyday Use” from Wikipedia) that he had distributed during the previous class). “Look at the descriptions of each character,” he said. He looked for his roster and when he found it he called the name of a female student: “Will you dance with me?” [meaning for the student to read the descriptions of Maggie and Dee]. There was silence. Then he said: “I’m 78 years old. I’m an old fart. She, Dee, is a young girl adapting in Augusta, Georgia. She has many friends, many of whom are white, some black. She brings home a guy and introduces him as Hakim. And the mother says ‘what kind of name is that? Then she [Dee] announces that her name is not Dee any more. I was in Tennessee back then and some people changed their names (and that was hard for me; Muhammad Ali changed his name) to get rid of their white names and adopt more black–African American to you–names.”

The professor paused to look through his pile of essays, then he said: “Asalamalakim [As-salamu alaykum]. I don’t know what that means. I’m not black. There’s a Spanish version of that. Do spend some time on ‘Everyday Use.’ I will show you a 22 minute movie of it on Monday. I haven’t made up my mind about when I’ll give you a quiz.” Then he called another female student: “Are you ready? If you don’t know what a quilt is you’re missing the point. Read the part about the quilt.” The student looked for her photocopy of the Wiki summary and started to read the section on the quilt being a symbol in the story. Halfway through the blurb, the professor interrupted and told her not use her finger to follow along as she read: “It slows you down terribly. You’ll have four or five hundred pages to read in college. If that terrifies you, it should. It did me.”

Then the professor said: “We will do three stories: “Everyday Use, [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez[‘s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”], he is the best in the world in Spanish; he just died.” Then he picked up a packet and said to a student seated in front of him: “Can you give those out [faculty evaluation forms]? I have to leave the room. And the third story, my favorite, James Joyce’s “The Dead.” He whistled and then said: “Gentlemen, it’s a good idea to stop talking. My favorite short story is Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” Joyce’s story is heavily skewed toward Catholics. But Marquez is skewed too. You Catholic Latinas know that. The exams are on May 31. No, the first week of June.”

At about twenty minutes before class was to end, an Asian female student came in and sat in the back of the room. He looked at her and began to shuffle for her graded essay. He could not find it and said to her: “Sorry hon, I’ll have to bring it to you.” The professor explained how the students were to fill out the scantron card for the faculty evaluation form. He stood up, walked out from behind his desk, and left the classroom (and his pile of papers on the desk). The student distributed the faculty evaluations forms and scantrons. Most students completed them; some students left. The student in charge of the forms waited ten minutes until the last person finished completing the evaluation. I stayed until the class was officially over and every student was out of the classroom. The professor returned and gathered his papers. We walked out and sat in a quiet place to talk.

elac_1This professor kindly talked with me for about half an hour. He has a master’s degree in Secondary Education and he was a “member of the now defunct federal War on Poverty program, the Teacher Corps.” He does not teach classes online but he attempts to “incorporate overheads and short movies,” even though, he said, it’s a hassle because he has to schedule a projector too far in advance and he has to pay for the movies he wants to show. In addition to writing and ESL, he jokes that he also teaches Spanglish. When I asked him to tell me about his experiences teaching writing to Latin@s, he said: “I have absolutely no problems relating to Latinos. I’m having problems relating to Asians. I have serious problems because they are not operating at the 101 level. I like getting Latinos to multi-paragraph essays.” He said he tries to “prepare students for the real world.” That’s why he doesn’t accept late papers. He said: “I’m trying to get them conscious, to raise their sensitivity. So many Latinos, Mexican in particular, are used to the patron system and I tell them no, you have to fight.” Then he went on to tell me stories about his youth in Tennessee, specially what he saw of “the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Vicent Price Art Museum at ELAC's new Performing and Fine Arts Complex. (Photo from ELAC's website)

The Vicent Price Art Museum at ELAC’s new Performing and Fine Arts Complex. (Photo from ELAC’s website)

In this class session I observed that this professor applies/enacts several pedagogical approaches, including sharing stories from his past, offering his interpretations of the plot and development in the readings, and requiring that students read aloud.

When I asked this professor to draw from his experience (teaching writing in the community college) to identify the three most important needs that must be met in order to improve Latino students’ rate of success, he said: “I am white and I live in… It’s a whole different world there… I like talking Spanglish; it helps me. I talk to them in Spanglish before class. They feel comfortable and see that I’m not coming at them from a lily white world.” I understood his response to mean:

  • Find ways to connect to Latin@ students on a human level.
  • Speak to students in cultural ways that they recognize and therefore help them feel at ease.
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