Third in a series of articles that address the importance of unions and what, in particular, your union, the Part-Time Faculty Association, has accomplished for part-timers at Allan Hancock College.

“Know You Have Made A Difference In My Life.”

When Deborah (not her real name) was being evaluated recently, an issue arose that she felt could put her teaching career at Hancock at risk.

After nearly two decades of teaching part-time at Allan Hancock College she realized, as we all do, the importance of a strict yet fair evaluation process. But she was uncomfortable with the person (a full-time instructor in her discipline) that had been assigned to do her evaluation. She feared that, if this individual were to be her evaluator, the outcome might be less than favorable, something that could have far-reaching consequences, to the point of even threatening her continuing employment at the college.

No one disputes how important teacher’s evaluations are. But how do you measure effective teaching? This is an ongoing argument; one has only to think of the educational “reformers” like Michelle Rhee and those being supported by Bill Gates, to be aware of how intense this debate has become.

During the ten years we at the Part-Time Faculty Association fought to get real seniority rights for our credit instructors, we had to overcome opposition from an administration that maintained we wanted to take away their flexibility in hiring, that we would force them to retain and promote incompetent teachers, that we wanted to prevent them from hiring a person more qualified than whoever already had the job. Eventually we settled on an evaluation process that would, using standards developed by both sides, rigorously evaluate all part-time instructors to be sure they were up to the high quality of instruction desired by everyone concerned. There are 20 such standards, ranging from assessing how well an instructor communicates in the classroom, to the instructional strategies they employ, to how well they are prepared and how well they have planned each lesson. These standards also take into account the instructor fulfilling the administrative responsibilities that come with the job, such as getting grades in on time and making sure census rosters are submitted by the deadlines set by the state.

The goal was to measure a person’s teaching skills as objectively as possible and identify areas where they might be especially strong and where they might need improvement. By successfully completing this evaluation process, the instructor has proven himself/herself to be a qualified teacher in their discipline, able to teach a credit course and provide the students with the same quality education they have a right to expect from a Hancock instructor, whether full or part-time. Thereafter, they have seniority rights and are evaluated every six semesters.

But no matter how much thought and planning takes place, there are always personality issues to contend with. The person selected to do Deborah’s evaluation made it clear at once that she disapproved of her teaching methods. Deborah felt threatened, and also offended. “I lost sleep over what I felt was an insulting email from my evaluator,” she said. As she saw it, her colleague immediately took a very critical view of how she teaches without giving her or her methods a fair chance.

Fortuitously, when we bargained the evaluation article in our collective bargaining agreement, we had foreseen that situations like this could arise. Article 13 specifies that if a member isn’t happy with the person assigned to evaluate them, they can tell the chair of their concerns and request another person to be their evaluator. Deborah did this, and another full-time instructor was selected to do her evaluation. “I feel so much relief and am not sweating the evaluation process at all now,” she said, and the rest of her evaluation went smoothly.

All’s well that ends well. Without a union, and our collective bargaining agreement, Deborah would have had no say in who did her evaluation. The consequences of this could have been serious. She might have gotten a bad evaluation, one that would result in a second evaluation being necessary. If that one were unfavorable, it could lead to the loss of her job, and the student’s loss of a knowledgeable teacher. “Know that you have made a difference in my life,” she wrote afterwards. It doesn’t get any better than that, and states in a few words the importance of having a union to stand up for our members.

Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA