A Day at the Movies–Field Report

From a friend of the Lounge, via email, who attended the special screening of “Waiting for Superman” at the invitation of the Chancellor and wishes to remain anonymous:

As 11:30am approached on the morning of Wednesday, November 10, 2010, those who chose to attend the viewing of “Waiting for Superman” were guided into the ShowPlace Icon Theater.  We traded in our district tickets for real movie tickets and were also given a ticket for one free small popcorn and small drink.  Waiting in the two lines for our refreshments was the only opportunity that we had to mingle and chat with fellow attendees.  The movie theater was packed – not an empty seat in the house, and I was forced to sit in a seat reserved for district hotshots.  I was asked to move, but politely declined.

When we were all seated, the Chancellor briefly addressed the audience, thanking us for attending and asking us to stand and be applauded.  First, the students stood – all five of them.  Then the faculty, a small handful of about perhaps fifteen.  Next the staff stood, just about the entire theater fit into this category.  It looked as if every district employee and administrator were present, including secretaries and others who play a minor role in the lives of students.  Clearly, they had to fill the seats.  Next, the Chancellor introduced the movie, stating that it was a film by Davis Guggenheim, director of “An Innocent Truth.”  Yes, I giggled and shook my head.

For the next hour and forty-five minutes we sat in silence watching the film.  There was laughter at some points, tears at the end – you could hear the sniffles and heavy breathing.  I did not cry.  I was too angry.  Not at the film itself, though there were many skewed perceptions, and important points passed by or not even considered.  I was angry at the parents in the film who subjected their children to unnecessary heartbreak and rejection.  If you have seen the film, you know the ending.  If not, I won’t give it away.

After the movie, we took a 15-minute break and reconvened in the theater for the panel discussion.  There were four people on the panel.  First up was Jim, from Advance Illinois, an organization that puts out the State Report Card on Illinois K-12 public schools.  Next was Katie from United Way Metro, an organization that collects resources from the community and then decides who needs the money most.  Their focus is on forming partnerships with other organizations to focus on the three goals of education, health/wellness, and financial stability.  Then we had Angela Henderson and Jaime Guzman.  You all know Angela, a tenured faculty member of CCC who somehow made her way to district, and six months ago was given the title of Provost.  She stated that her job was to ensure the success of CCC students.  Jaime is Chief Advisor to the Board of Directors of CCC.  He worked previously for CPS.

The Panel discussion was supposed to last from 2-2:30pm, but it took half an hour for the members to introduce themselves.  They really did not have anything to discuss, and seemed unprepared.  Alvin, who was acting as moderator, asked a few questions of his own about the movie, and the panelists danced around not giving very clear answers.  The part that most intrigued me was when someone from the audience asked what they, as leaders, could do to assist faculty in doing their job to the best of their ability, and removing some of the barriers that faculty face in the classroom.  There were about 3 minutes of dead silence from the panel.  It seemed as if the idea of DISTRICT helping FACULTY had never occurred to them.  Of course not.  Why would district ever ask faculty, “What problems are you facing in the classroom, and what can we do to help you?”  Then, Jaime attempted to provide an answer.  He stated that the best way to help faculty was to have a strong faculty evaluation process (WHAT!? – that’s what I was thinking).  Faculty need feedback so that they know what they are doing wrong in the classroom.  (I’m squirming in my seat, clenching my fists).  Then, Angela attempts to recover by stating that Professional Development for faculty is the key (now I’m turning red and biting my tongue – we weren’t allowed to speak or ask questions verbally).  Of course, the best way to help faculty is to tell them what they are doing wrong and put them in seminars and workshops to help them get better without asking them what kinds of seminars and workshops would actually be helpful (so that’s what DWFDW was all about…).  After that there was some talk of what advice would the panelists give Obama and I just tuned out.

The panel ended just after 3pm and the Chancellor once again addressed the audience (which was significantly reduced by this time).  She said that she needed half an hour to recover her emotions after watching the movie because she could relate to it both personally (again?) and professionally.  She was the young child sitting there, waiting for someone to give her the chance to make something of herself (wasn’t that CCC?).  Then, we were dismissed and everyone ran out of there as quickly as possible.

So, in my opinion, this was a waste of a day.  That theater should have been filled with faculty, not administrators.  We should have broken out into groups and discussed one aspect of the film, one problem that was brought up, and what we can do as educators, as community college faculty, to address that one problem.  Then, we could have come back together and shared our insights, discussed pros and cons of the solutions, and talked about what was conveniently left out of the film. This would have created the engagement that was supposed to occur.  This would have created the spark of conversation, the passion, the investment in our education system that the movie was hoping to ignite.  Having us sit for an hour listening to panelists who were unprepared and serving their own agendas, was not the way to go.  But, that’s just one person’s opinion.

8 thoughts on “A Day at the Movies–Field Report

  1. “strong faculty evaluation process”?

    If I were asked to describe the feedback that non-tenured professors receive during our probationary period, I would say it is weak, is not targeted towards faculty, has little to do with evaluation, and barely qualifies as a process.

    I would be able to take this advice a little more seriously if there was evidence that District is guided by the same advice.

  2. First off, I have to stress that do not believe that a person moving from faculty to administration makes them inherently ‘an enemy’ to good teaching, or to faculty and student success. I despise such simplistic thinking and find we are quite lucky in our institution with the real teaching experience most of our admistrators have and the care they have for the school/students/faculty.

    Now…that being said – District appears to have been over run more than I have ever seen with the corporatization disease – the Chancellor (and too many of those she has appointed) appears to feel that she understands academia in general, that she understands the real, mission-based differences between community colleges and 4-years (they enhance each other but they are not the same), that she understands the real issues of students and faculty (and not just how much evaluation and training we need), that she understands the role of District in assisting to further the mission, and that she understands and respects those who actually DO work with students – but she (and many of her crew) clearly does not understand to the degree that makes them useful to the system. This ‘movie night’ (and thank you for relaying what happened so clearly) sounds like an insulting waste of time – the idea was not so bad (discussing the issues – I LOVE really, deeply, honestly discussing issues – it is one of my favorite things) but the implementation appeared to lack integrity. The discussion could have focused on the valid/invalid points of the film, the differences between community colleges and high school/grade school (as well as the inherent connections), and how our level can develop smoother, more successful transitions for students. I am a bit unclear on the overall goal of ‘movie night.’

    I want, more than I ever thought I would, leaders for this system that actually have an understanding of it and respect for it – not an understanding that is unrealistic nor a ‘corporate’ understanding which is too often based on power/fear and the occasional pandering to the masses.

  3. Thanks for the thorough summary of the events of yesterday. I’m glad I decided not to attend. My time was much better spent teaching albeit I watched my students take an exam for a good amount of the time. This gives even more of a reason to discuss the film and its implications locally.

  4. Am I understanding this right: faculty weren’t allowed to speak or ask questions? Could the Original Poster clarify what this means.

    THANK YOU!

    • We were seated in the movie theater and we were given one index card on which we could write one question. We had to hand our index cards over to district employees who gave them to Alvin. Alvin then screened them, and asked the questions that he chose to ask. The panelists spoke, we listened. No interaction whatsoever.

  5. Even corporate bigwigs know that you stroke employees if you want productivity,obviously, there is some disconnect between what we know and what the covert big plan is that we are not privy to in this re-invention scenario.
    Will it be some regimented curriculum across the district taking us back to the middle ages?We will undoubtedly stifle creativity and we will become cookie cutter teachers if this is to be.
    Does this re-invention process presume to be the renaissance that involves putting students in a culture of customer service where they call the shots and we work to please them?
    At the end of the day they have a diploma “their way” and we call that success.I wonder how that would fly with the Higher Learning Commission.

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