Welcome back to the Flipside! So far I’ve highlighted many students from different backgrounds – homeschooled, public school, community college, co-op, private school. You name it, I’ve interviewed a student who has experienced it. But now I think it’s time to take a quick hiatus from the students, and dive into something a little different – professors. You see, at QVCC, I think there is one thing that really makes or breaks the school. It’s not the square footage, or how new the computer labs are. It’s not their kickass mascot (their mascot is a frog. A frog), or even their students. Sure, their student population does matter, but I don’t think it matters as much as the professors. In my experience, teachers can literally make or break a classroom experience. Their attitudes – the way they interact with their students and fellow professors – set the tone for the whole school. So that’s why I’ve interviewed several QVCC professors for this blog project. First, I’m going to start by telling Beth Alves’s story.
Beth Alves is the professor from whom I’ve taken the most classes at QVCC. Between the movies class, English 102, Humanities, and Women in Literature, her teaching style fit with my learning style so well that I kept coming back for more. All but one of the classes I took with Beth were online, and I’ve never had such a positive online class experience. Beth knew how important it was to make an online class still feel like a learning experience, and while her assignments were challenging and her expectations for us were high, she held herself to the same standards. Every week, she sent an individual email to each student, talking about what they did well and what they could improve on. Beth’s classes also increased my critical thinking skills. She never wanted the simple explanation when I was analyzing an Edgar Allen Poe poem, but always asked deeper questions. These questions made us think critically about the literature we were reading, and often, about yourself. So how did Beth become a professor at QVCC? To answer that question, let’s start at the beginning.
Beth attended a public school for K-12, and had a great experience. She had dedicated teachers, great classes, and a variety of electives she could take in high school. She found herself gravitating towards English and history, and when she began college at Seton Hall University, she thought she wanted to be a high school teacher. As her college career continued, she found that the education classes bored her to tears, but the English classes were stimulating and engaging. She took many communications classes as electives, and soon dropped the education part of her major. “I really had absolutely no idea what I was gonna do,” but she decided she would start with an English degree. She ended up as a senior, double majoring in English and communications, and like most college students, was struggling to get by. She thought about grad school, but since she could barely pay for her undergraduate degree, she thought she wouldn’t be able to afford it. That’s when one of her friends told her about becoming a TA – the school would pay her a salary as a TA, while also paying for her college tuition. Now Beth had a Master’s degree in English but still didn’t know what she wanted to do.
When she finally emerged from being a college student herself, Beth became a substitute teacher at an elementary/junior high school for a semester before she landed a job as a local news reporter. “This was back in the time when you really needed to like, have a degree to be a reporter. Now a days, it’s a little bit different.” She started with obituaries and police log information, and soon she was a journalist. The drawback to this job, though, was that they didn’t pay much money, so a week before the semester started in August, Beth found an ad for a Manchester Community College adjunct professor. She became a part time professor at MCC for 12 years before she applied to three community colleges for a full time position. That’s when Beth started working at QVCC, and now she’s been there for 13 years. At QVCC Beth teaches English classes – developmental English, English 101, Literature, Women in Literature, Children’s Literature, and Contemporary American Literature, but that didn’t stop her from branching out. She was on the debate team in college and had a bachelor’s degree in Communications, so even though she didn’t have a Master’s in communications, she was able to start teaching speech classes, public speaking, communication, and business writing. From there, she took advantage of the small school setting and asked for more classes to teach, including the online Humanities class I took with her, as well as the movies class.
To Beth, there are many perks to teaching at a community college as opposed to a 4 year university. The class sizes are small, and “I’m able to really interact with students – I get to know them. From a professional standpoint, I like that they’re [administration] encouraging creativity on my end. If I want to create an online class – absolutely. I can’t do anything that I want, there has to be justification behind it… I like the fact that I’m pushed to be a better teacher and I like the fact that I can interact one-on-one with students.” Beth is glad that she decided to work at a community college, and doesn’t have any regrets that she chose not to get her PhD to continue on to teaching at a university. Additionally, Beth doesn’t feel pressure to publish at QVCC. “One thing that they [universities] encourage is publishing – doing a book, doing a paper.. There’s a heavy emphasis placed on that side of the academic house. If you are here [QVCC], we are not required to publish. We can if we want to, but it’s not a requirement. We have to teach 4 courses and have additional responsibilities like advising or tutoring, but I would not be happy, personally, just spending a lot of my free time writing a book. I’ much happier spending my free time trying to figure out how to make my classes better.”
One of my favorite things about Beth is that she is always honest. That’s one of the reasons why I chose Beth to be my mentor for the graduation speech process. I can always count on her to tell me what she thinks about the work that I’ve done. She is this straight forward about her life as well. “There are many things that I do not do well in my life. I really am not a good cleaner, I hate to clean. I’m mediocre at cooking and baking, but I think I do a good job teaching and I work really hard. And I’m not saying that from a boasting standpoint, because I work at it. I ask for feedback – what works well and what doesn’t work well, so they let me do the humanities class because again, I was a good worker and I got good evaluations.” While Beth might not think that being a good teacher comes naturally to her, I have to say that I’ve never had a teacher who has been more dedicated to putting in the time to make herself and her classes better for her students. The classes that I took with Beth have honestly shaped who I am as a student more than almost any set of experiences in my college career. After writing 8-10 pages for each of her online classes per week (and one semester I took two online classes with Beth at once!) most papers pale in comparison. I can throw quotes into any piece of writing, and my citation skills are second nature. I can’t thank Beth enough for helping me grow into the student that I am today, and for helping me grow as a person by leading me through the graduation speaker audition process. The act of speaking in front of hundreds of people at my first graduation was humbling and helped me grow into a person who still gets nervous about public speaking, but who now has a perfect example of reasons why she should not be nervous. So thank you Beth.