Guest Commentary – Instructor prevented from teaching to his standards

Guest Commentary – Instructor prevented from teaching to his standards

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submitted by Dan Welton


teach photography in the Arts Division here at Lane and this is the start of my 31st year. Lane used to promote itself as a community college, emphasizing small class sizes and personal attention from mostly full time professional instructors.

The classes I taught were at that time capped at 15, although I often took two or three extras knowing some would probably drop. Cameras were very simple then and I was able to teach my students how to use them in one class period. We could then concentrate on applying the techniques that go into making a good photograph.

With the small class size, I was able to schedule individual meetings with each student, about the middle of the term, to help them assess their progress and go over problems they were having. It was a very rewarding way to teach and I was proud of the results my students produced.

Then the class size was increased to 20 students, then to 25, and now it is 27 students, nearly double the size when I started. Cameras have become more diverse and complex so I must spend a great deal more time going over the basics of how to operate them before we can start taking photographs.

Now it usually takes three or four weeks to get everyone fully familiar with their cameras so they can start learning good photographic techniques. With so many students, and their lack of scheduling flexibility, I am no longer able to meet with each student individually, which means more will not reach their goals in the class.

I still love teaching but know that I am not nearly as effective, try as I might, due to external limitations imposed by the large class size and my inability to work closely with each student. I heard a student refer to Lane as “Lane Cattle College” where students have been herded into large overcrowded pens and force-fed information without much help digesting it.

Fall term 2013 had nine Photo 1 sections with an average of 18 students. Fall term 2014 had only six sections with 20 students. That meant a total enrollment drop of 42 students, or 25 percent. Did those students switch to other sections? It does not appear so.

Did those missing students take other classes instead, or simply not come to Lane because nothing was offered at times they could attend? No one knows that answer for certain, but from talking with my students, most of them said they are only able to attend at certain times due to job and family commitments.

The administration does not seem to have taken that into account in its insistence on fewer sections with larger class sizes. There appears to be an attitude that students are totally flexible with their time, which is simply not true. Try asking them.

At my pay, it takes 10.5 students in a class to cover my salary. How many more students does it take to cover the rest of the overhead cost to break even? The sources I have questioned either do not know or will not tell me. I do know that the more sections offered, the more the fixed overhead beyond salary is spread out per section thus making it more economical.

Would it not make sense to calculate the cost to run a class and then offer as many sections as possible as long as those costs are covered? I believe that more available classes would actually reverse the trend of declining enrollment.

Last fall was the first one in which enrollment “enhancements” (a euphemism for overcrowding) were used. The administration started with the enhanced number and added up the number of empty seats. If that number comes close to an overcrowded class target, a section is dropped under the theory students would just take one of the existing sections. But that does not happen. Students just do not take the class and enrollment drops.

Lane needs to stop treating students like beans that can be moved around to fit the top down budgeting plan and return to being a community college with as many possible class options as can be made available to the community it is supposedly serving.

Lastly, students need to make their voices heard about this problem because they are the ones suffering. Tell the administration these overcrowded classes and reduced offerings are not right.