When I first moved to Sedalia, I didn’t have a job. I had been a real estate negotiator in Kansas City, but no one here needed a corporate real estate negotiator. I applied for a newspaper job covering the court, but the editor implied that I didn’t know how to write because I didn’t have a journalism degree. I applied at City Hall but was turned down. “Overqualified,” they said. Eventually, I interviewed with Bud Thomas for a teaching position, and he offered me a job.
I hadn’t really wanted to teach high school English; I hadn’t enjoyed practice teaching, and I wasn’t sure I would be as good as my mother. I taught for a year anyway, trying to emulate “Miz G” and feeling as if I were failing. I decided teaching wasn’t for me.
I got a call about a year later, though, from someone at State Fair Community College asking me to teach a composition class. I thought, “Why not?” Teaching college students might be different from teaching high schoolers, so it was worth a try.
And it worked out. Come this next January, with exceptions of a few semesters here and there, I will have been teaching at SFCC for 30 years. I began by using blackboards, textbooks, and pencils and paper. This year, I am using Blackboard, a computer program; paper and online textbooks; computer keyboards; and creativity.
I explained to my class the other day about how their college learning experiences differ from mine. Even I was shocked.
In 1971, William Jewell’s library boasted three floors of books and periodicals, so students had plenty of material to choose from. If we couldn’t find a needed source, the librarian could order it from a college library consortium. I could receive my order in three days!
One room contained a computer with three or four stations. When I took the computer science class (BIG mistake), I had to schedule time to use the computer. The other parts of the library were used for chatting with friends and potential dates. Occasionally, people would study, but they used separate rooms – rooms with doors that could dampen the dull roar of the madding crowd.
Over the years, though, things changed. With the advent of personal computers, a college education – and teaching college classes – began to look very different. Last year, Jewell opened its new library. It holds no books. Oh, some books are still at the Curry Library just across the quad, but the new library focuses on technology. The whole building is Wi-Fi enabled.
The top floor is decorated beautifully, with a fireplace and comfortable chairs, where kids “hang out” and access books on their laptops. Most chatting is done on a phone or computer. When students need a break, they go to the coffee shop. Individual study rooms are now outfitted with computers with group meeting capabilities. Up to 10 people can “meet” with people from all over the world on a huge computer screen in the virtual conference room.
At SFCC, technology is also king. We have a beautiful library housing a computer lab and work space, and also paper books, journals, and other periodicals. In some classrooms, computers sit at every desk, and large computer labs are available to students who don’t have computers or Internet service at home. And technology has changed how we teach students, not only because of what is available, but also because of what students expect.
Gone are the days of lecture without electronic assistance. Curriculum is available on the Internet, so students can take classes from home. Books, periodicals and journals are available 24 hours a day through electronic databases. Access to information is limitless, so the biggest challenge a student has is knowing when to stop looking. Some things haven’t changed, though. In order to learn, students still have to read material, they still have to participate in class, and they still have to write and take tests.
In some ways, it seems like yesterday that I stood at the front of my first college class. But as I prepare for the next online class on my computer, I know yesterday was a long time ago!
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.