On Tuesday, September 6th 2016, ITT Technical Institute closed its doors forever.
Like the students, faculty and staff alike had no warning from the school beforehand -- we were all planning our Fall quarter like nothing was different -- but somehow it wasn't a surprise.
Let me rewind a bit for context. I taught at ITT Tech here in Spokane for the past four years. My core classes were composition I and II, though I was also given to teach communications, group theory, research methods, and miscellaneous others over the course of my time there. When I began, I was so excited. I was going to be a TEACHER! Of COLLEGE! I was going to use everything in my arsenal, from reading as a kid to graduate school, to get those students pumped for composition!
That... was optimistic.
Of course as a comp teacher at a tech school, I didn't expect my math-loving students to embrace my class with open arms. I was willing to work for their interest. I wanted to inspire them to go beyond what they thought they liked. I tutored, stayed up late at night to give my students detailed notes on their papers, and worked out alternative curriculum that would both interest and challenge them.
Turns out, the school itself didn't care about any of that.
Before I begin the obligatory list-of-things for blogs these days, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: my campus was amazing. The dean worked with us, supported us, and challenged us daily. He bent over backwards to give us the tools we needed to actually teach our students, and was always on our side. My fellow faculty members were kind and patient to a "T, and our students -- for the most part -- were eager and excited to learn. NOTHING about my campus here in Spokane has ANYTHING to do with what I'm about to tell you: this was all corporate. And now that I am free... I am free to tell you everything.
5) Faculty was the Bottom Priority
When I started at ITT Tech, I took for granted that I would have a desk. And a computer. And a phone. And supplies to do my job.
And I did.
And it was good. But also kind of expected. Yet, about a year in to my work there I found out that this was not the norm at all campuses. Not even at most. In fact, it was company policy that NO faculty members should have any of that. Yup. We weren't supposed to have desks, or computers of our own, or phones... or anything, really. As for supplies, officially they grudgingly allowed us to use pens and paper.
Yes, you read that right: we almost weren't even supposed to use company office supplies.
At my campus there were only three people with keys to the supply closet, none of whom were regular faculty, yet EVERYONE had keys to the faculty offices. In other words: ITT's precious pens were locked safely away even from us, while our own personal effects could be taken by anyone with the wherewithal to follow a staffmember through the doors.
Staples were a precious commodity; we joked that they could be used as currency among us. When the corporate side of the campus decided they didn't like their copier, they got a new one... and gave the old one to us. We didn't like it either. Didn't matter. It was ours. Oh -- and we weren't allowed to teach more than four classes a quarter -- with four being rare -- because full-time was too much of a commitment for corporate to make to their teachers.
If you're curious as to how corporate expected us to do our jobs without desks or computers, I'll tell you what was told to me when I asked that logical question: we were supposed to share a few communal computers and phones. That was all they expected us to need. After all, we didn't have to do anything like prepare curriculum because...
4) The Curriculum Was Written For us... by a Madman
Composition was a train wreck of tangled genres, unrealistic deadlines, and homework expectations that would have been impossible for a full time student to fulfill, let alone working adults with families and jobs. There was no review of grammar or sentence structure at all; the curriculum jumped right into teaching the students to write a memoir on day 1. Why a memoir? Beats me. I STILL haven't figured that one out. Assignments were often due before the curriculum had their lessons scheduled. The final research papers -- due in unit 8 -- weren't even discussed until unit 6. Quizzes didn't match their keys, and worksheets didn't match the books. I was expected to lead my students through a quarter of curriculum that felt more like a minefield-laden labyrinth of words and terms than anything resembling a lesson.
I will never forget my first quarter teaching group theory, when the final exam was so off from its key that everyone failed. (Especially since they ALL got the last ten questions wrong by not writing any answers at all... because the exam didn't ask anything... even though the key answered the questions it hadn't asked.) I ended up correcting the exams myself -- for each of the fifty students in my class -- and most of them passed.
Two years in, my amazing dean gave me the freedom to fix the curriculum to work for the students instead of against them (you know, like most schools do). Things ran much more smoothly after that. Still,the official policy was to follow that unfollowable curriculum to a "T". I have NO idea how teachers at other campuses did it without themselves and their students going insane.
I do know one thing, though: crazy or not, we knew exactly which students would be joining us on that train in each and every class, because...
3) You Lived and Died on Attendance
QUICK! Guess what instructor paperwork mattered the most to corporate?
Homework corrections and notes for the students' benefit? Nah.
Dingdingding! We have a winner!
Every once in a while I would forget to input the attendance during class because, well, I was kind of distracted by the whole teaching thing. (Weird, I know.) Every time this happened, I'd get an email first thing in the morning from my dean, asking me to get to it asap. He was always very laid back -- way more than I would have been in his position -- but I could read the urgency in every one of those emails like it was written in the simple words themselves. ATTENDANCE HAD TO BE INPUTTED ASAP.
We had meetings about how to raise our attendance practices. I kept detailed attendance records -- double copied -- both digitally and on paper. If a student was absent, we had to take their information to the front desk before the end of the first hour of class so that the receptionist could call them and see why they weren't there. (Some instructors chose to do this calling themselves; I've always hated talking on the phone myself.) Emails had to be sent. Forms had to be filled out. Records had to be noted.
Every. Time. One. Student. Was. Absent.
We're not talking about kids, here. We weren't worried that little Timmy had been kidnapped or that little Suzy was skipping to smoke out back. We taught grown adults who were free to make their own choices, even if they were bad ones. In fact, students could literally come to class, tell me they had to go right then for whatever reason, and still be marked present, officially.
So why did it MATTER so much?
If you guessed money, you win. What you win I don't know. Maybe a broken trophy with the word "JADED" scrawled across it in lipstick? Whatever. You win. Enjoy.
Anyway, yes. Every time a student was absent there was a chance they would remain so...and their financial aid money right along with them. Corporate was afraid that if we didn't hound the crap out of them, they wouldn't know how very badly we needed them in class... because we cared... about their education.
Yeah. About that...
2) The Finance Office Ruled All
I can't tell you how many times I had to send students out of the classroom at the beginning of class to talk to the financial aid office. They missed lectures. They missed labs. They missed group activities.
They missed class. Sometimes hours of it.
But if a student got a red paper in my box, they had to go. No matter what. Classtime wasn't as important as making damn sure their financial aid was in order so the school would get paid. If the finance officer needed them, they went. Even if that meant they waited outside the office for an hour while the rest of the class moved ahead of them.
Of course, that didn't matter unless they actually wanted to know what I was teaching. They could pass the class even if they didn't, because...
1) Academic Integrity was a Joke
Let me preface this one by saying that I had some amazing students. They worked hard. They wanted to learn. And that's what makes me angry at ITT Tech especially: because none of that mattered.
Failing students wasn't quite up there with failing to mark them present in class, but it was a close second. This had nothing to do with caring whether the students deserved to fail or not, just so we're clear. The school didn't care about that. What they did care about was that the students didn't leave out of discouragement because they failed a class or two.
I had a conversation with a recruiter a few months ago, and he told me that they were discouraged from telling potential students that it was a school at all. In fact, they were to push emphasis on getting a job so hard that students came in thinking we were a temp agency of some sort, and were blown away that they had to do schoolwork in the first place.
Think about that in terms of academic integrity.
I never gave A's where they weren't deserved, but I am ashamed to say that fear of low retention scores drove me to raise some F's to low D's just to bump up my own passing numbers. Many of these students weren't failing because the work was too hard, either -- we were encouraged to do what we could to make it as easy as possible to pass -- but simply because they didn't care.
Let me say that again: students who didn't care about the work they were doing were getting passing grades. Grades that told potential employers that they knew what they were doing... when they didn't have a clue. And they didn't care, because they knew the policies. They knew they'd get a degree no matter what because they were paying for it.
I was not the only teacher doing this. In fact, it was an epidemic because we had to. When you have a classroom of students who don't want to be there, who feel duped into doing schoolwork in the first place, whose continued attendance is the only thing standing between you and your abysmal, but vital, paycheck -- you do what you have to do to survive.
So let me make one thing clear: I FULLY SUPPORT the government's decision in this matter. ITT Tech was a farce as a school. It contributed to the demise of secondary education in our country -- education that I consider vital and honorable -- and I'm glad it's gone. Its death will pave the way to healing the value and depth of education in our country once more. I very much look forward to seeing that happen.
That said, I do hope that those students who worked so hard for so long to get degrees that are now worthless through no fault of their own, will be given a shot at proving that they are worth so much more than that POS of a school they attended.
Because they are.
And I want them to know that I am still here, cheering them on, from the other side of the crater ITT left in all of our lives.