Who Are You?

California_09 007

“Who Are You?” –These are the words of a text message I received recently in response to a work-related request. I responded back, “Katie Winkler.” No message came back. It was a little thing and was not meant to offend. It’s not important in the grand scheme of things, but it is symbolic of the way I feel sometimes as an instructor at a community college.

Who are you to ask questions about the college’s policies and procedures developed by those with little or no educational background?

Who are you to request materials to support the recruitment of students at a college with declining enrollment?

Who are you to question the expenditure of nearly a quarter of a million dollars on an initiative that many studies show leads to little improvement in retention and completion rates?

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

I am an instructor who comes in early and stays late, even though I am not required to. I am an instructor who works on the weekends grading papers and writing instructional material for my online class because I’ve been interrupted throughout the week by non-instructional tasks, reports, and meetings when I wasn’t teaching and preparing for my seated classes. I am an instructor who tries to answer student e-mails within a few hours of receiving them, even on the weekend.  I am an instructor who works throughout the summer on my classes, even though I am not being paid because I want my students to have the best possible experience while keeping an insane grading load manageable. I am an instructor who cares.

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

Even though you have worked at an institution for over 20 years, people still ask you how many of those years were full-time as if your adjunct years were of no value. You are asked to take minutes as soon as you walk through the door for your first meeting on a new committee when the room is already full of other people. Your integrity is questioned concerning your instruction, your travel, your compensation and your intentions. You are accused of being uncooperative in open meetings by people who rarely communicate with you except to criticize you. You are frequently chastised by members of support staff for mistakes you make in filling out forms that have little to do with actual instruction, even though the procedures for filling out said forms are unclear. You are asked to make your own appointments when you have questions of support staff. You are often interrupted on a whim, without regard to students who might need your assistance. You are an instructor who is forced to send maintenance request to get toilet paper and hand soap in a bathroom frequented by students but no one else. You are a little person with little power who is considered to be of little worth and quite a thorn in the side of many because you demand to be heard on behalf of yourself, your colleagues and your students.

But who are you, really, Katie Winkler?

You are respected by your immediate supervisor, your close colleagues and your students. You are a gifted instructor in class and online who regularly holds 75% to 80% retention rates in online classes. You have made a positive difference in the lives of your colleagues and students. You are a good collaborator who is willing to learn and adapt to new methods and technologies for the sake of your students.

You are dedicated, determined, knowledgeable, well-read, kind, long-suffering, stubborn, assertive, whiny, strong-willed, caring, cooperative, impulsive, decisive, intelligent, self-effacing, witty, maternal, greatly flawed but self-assessing and driven to improve.

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

You are wife, mother, writer, actor, preacher, counselor, nurse, adviser, editor, chef, reviewer, director, mentor and friend.

You are a good teacher.

Sometimes I just have to remind myself.


Another Guest –Hey, I’m busy reaching my writing goals for the summer


I’m busy with my fiction and playwriting, but here’s another great guest article. This is from The Atlantic–“The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt–interesting read. It comes through an organization I support called FIRE–Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. They support and promote free speech on college campuses–even speech the general college population doesn’t want to hear. I like that about them. They are quoted in the article, which is about the pervasiveness of political correctness on our campuses that is quenching free speech and maybe even harming the psychological well-being of students.

Here’s the link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/


Guest Blogger James Hogan on the State of Education in North Carolina

I’m in Alabama visiting with my mother and brother and helping them get ready for my older brother and his family visiting from Germany, but this article by James Hogan, re-printed by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post is worthy of a read.

Here’s the link:



Katie Goes on a Tear

liberal arts

Classical Liberal Arts

Recently a posting about the cost of education in America compared to countries that offer “free” education got me really going on a tear for some reason. Some of the comments by people I know, like and admire, made me realize how many misconceptions people have about a liberal arts education. First of all, I understand people’s frustration with the current state of higher education in America–it’s a case of paying too much for too little. However, it isn’t entirely the learning institutions’ fault, though they certainly share the blame.

No, the biggest reason behind the failure of our high schools, colleges and universities is that we, as a people, do not understand the true nature of a liberal arts education and therefore devalue it. Listening to some administrators, students, their parents and the general public, I conclude that most people view getting an education as a means to an end–getting a job. Many people seem to think that when they, or the government, pay tuition that they are basically purchasing a diploma, certificate or degree that they need in order to become employed, like purchasing transportation or clothing or anything else that makes work possible.

See, I’m still on the warpath, but I’ll get over it. I’ll have to in order to keep my sanity. It did help to vent on the hapless people who commented on my comments on Facebook, and I thought some of my points were pretty darn good, actually, so I’m going to re-print them here.

Point #1–There is something to be said for providing high performing high school students with at least the first two years of college, like in Georgia. It’s not free–students have to work very hard in high school to maintain a B average to get a Hope Scholarship. Getting an education is the goal–not getting a job. We need citizens who know how to read and write well and most importantly how to think critically. We need to give people an incentive to truly learn something in high school, and we need to give parents an incentive to push their kids to do well in school. We could do this if we adopted something like what Georgia has.

Point #2–Getting an education is about more than getting a job–it’s about learning how to think critically and problem solve and be autonomous, not under anyone’s control except God’s. It’s power to the powerless, it’s learning how to appreciate art and literature and music. It’s about making life better for yourself and the people you love. We have lost our way; we have forgotten what a real education is, and we have substituted it with this paltry idea of mere job training. Show me a person who is truly educated–and I don’t mean has a degree–I’m not talking about degrees, and I’ll show you someone who has a career that fulfills him or her. And if that thinking person doesn’t have a job, then he or she doesn’t want or need one. (A bit hyperbolic but I was fired up)

Point #3–We need to start realizing that education is for everyone and start making our middle and high schools places of real learning again. I don’t think everyone needs a four-year degree. I think we need to start coming up with alternative ways for people to get their education, but the biggest concern should be helping people see the value of an education–of learning how to read with real comprehension, to write clearly and effectively, to use modern technology to do meaningful, practical research. Diplomas, degrees and certificates are meaningless unless people are learning skills like problem-solving that will benefit them no matter what they do for a living because more than likely they will be changing careers and jobs more than once in their lifetime, so they need to learn skills that will help them adapt to new work situations quickly–they need to learn how to critically think–we still have that in this country but it’s quickly being lost to this idea of utilitarian education that has been proven (just look at the results of the Industrial Revolution)–it’s called a liberal arts education and it works but only if the public understands the value of it, and right now liberal arts education is under fire and too many people don’t see its value. That is a crying shame.


The Quality of Mercy


Maggie Smith, one of my favorite actors, as Portia 
in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice--
the BBC's 1972 version of the play

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, …

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1

I am so much like Shylock. I believe strongly in justice. Just like Shylock, I don’t just seek justice, I demand it. But unlike him, I hope, in dealings with my students anyway, I see the wisdom of Portia, one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s female characters, and I know that it would have served Shylock well to heed Portia’s words and render mercy. And indeed, many times when a student asks for mercy, and I choose to give it, we are indeed both blessed. The student gets a chance to rectify whatever problem there is–attendance, poor performance in class, misbehavior in class, whatever it may be, and I get the satisfaction of helping a student succeed and truly learn something valuable.

Sometimes, however, that mercy is given, the student takes it, and then uses my act of mercy against me. This just doesn’t happen to teachers, of course, but I find that the teaching profession seems particular vulnerable to the ungrateful. I get so disheartened when this happens that I want to make a list of strict rules and never show any mercy whatsoever. Sometimes I think my colleagues and supervisors would be happier if my mercy were a bit less freely given.  Now, I do have rules and high standards, but I temper them with mercy if I see that I can help the student. I just have to, you see, because of the mercy shown to me.

I remember when I was a senior in undergrad school. I was struggling, like a lot of my own students, with who I was and where I was going next. I was pretty smart and had a way with words, but I was so caught up in my life –meeting people and learning a new language and becoming a woman and discovering hidden talents, like acting and persuasive speaking, that I had, frankly, lost interest in my English studies.

I procrastinated with my paper and put it off and off that last semester of my first senior year that when I finally started working on it in earnest, I realized that it would be impossible for me to finish. I had to ask for an extension. I was truly scared when I walked into my professor’s office. He was intimidating because he was so brilliant as well as being the head of the English department. I didn’t think he even really knew my name. I was standing there and couldn’t speak. He finally looked up and said something, I can’t really remember, and I blurted it all out. Not all of “it” was absolutely true either, but he had mercy. He gave me the extension I requested without hesitation. Then he did something I never expected–He pointed to the chair and said, “Now sit down and tell me what’s really bothering you.”

I finished the paper that first semester of my 2nd senior year. I never had worked so hard on anything in my life. 35 pages comparing the works of Flannery O’Connor and Franz Kafka–two displaced people who didn’t fit in anywhere, so they became writers or maybe they were writers and that’s why they didn’t fit in. I still don’t know. Anyway, I could say I finally found my way while I was writing that paper, and it would be a lie. I could say I stopped procrastinating and learned my lesson; that too would be untrue. No, I worked that hard out of gratitude to the professor who showed me mercy. His mercy, freely given, was twice blessed.

So I lean towards mercy when I think that mercy is going to be best for the student, when the student has a chance of making real change in his or her life. However, the quality of mercy is not strained (or forced). If the mercy is to be at all, then it must come freely given from the person granting that gift. For example, Portia is a wise judge. She knows she cannot legally force Shylock to have mercy because then that mercy would simply be a violation of justice. True mercy requires true justice. So she appeals to Shylock’s sense of justice when she appeals to his mercy. But he doesn’t want justice. He wants revenge.

As we see later in the play, Shylock made a grave mistake not granting mercy–it led to his bankruptcy and loss of his only child–making the play a tragedy more than a comedy in my mind, so great is Shylock’s loss. But Shylock’s fall is inevitable because Shylock is so full of anger, justifiably so perhaps considering the anti-semitic society in which he lives, that he can not show mercy because mercy must be freely given.

Therefore, even if a student takes my merciful action and uses it against me, it is still a gift freely given in an attempt to help that student. If now that student is demanding mercy, I can not give it because it is not freely given and would corrupt justice.
However, if I truly believe that I am standing my ground for the sake of the student as well as the integrity of my profession, then I am blessed no matter how the student misuses my gift. If no one ever acknowledges that I did the right thing and some people rally against me because of my stand, I will still be blessed because I didn’t allow others to pervert my deep sense of justice. 
I will continue to seek justice by upholding established policies and procedures, to fight for what is right, and I will continue to show mercy. Not because it is in my nature–it is not; not because my faith demands it–it does not. I show mercy out of gratitude–gratitude to the one whose unmerited favor has given me such a wonderful, abundant life.

More from the CAMPUS

Another frustrating day, so another installment from my musical in progress CAMPUS–a Satire of Higher Education in Appalachia. This song is sung by the arch villain of the piece–Mr. Mediocrity. An actor friend  living in Raleigh who did a reading there for me suggested I rename him Governor Mediocrity. I might just do that. Anyway, here it is, folks, me venting my spleen, yet again.

Bread and Circuses

By Katie Winkler

(from the musical CAMPUS)

I consider myself

A student of history

The Romans had power

That’s no mystery

But how did the elite

Keep their society replete

With ignorant masses and slave labor

Don’t forget the gladiators?

How did they keep them from starving

Or stop them from harping

About their miserable condition?

Do you know what the secret is?

I’ll tell you

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses

They certainly do have their purposes

Everything will be just fine

If you keep them wined and dined

With a little food and relaxation

They’ll be ripe for some taxation

So give them

Bread and Circuses

Just not too much

I consider myself

A student of psychology

I sure know my way

Around society

Just a few things that they need

Enough to go out once a week

We keep open all McDonald’s

And Cracker Barrel too

These schmucks will pay good money

For that kind of food.

The finer restaurants need not fear

The rabble go to Red Lobster just once a year

Just give them

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses

I’m sure that’s what the answer is

As long as we don’t discriminate

Denying advancement to every race

Enough bad food and home entertainment

Will keep the proper containment

So give them

Bread and Circuses

Only just enough

The secret to giving them satisfaction

Is lowering their expectations

This is the secret to our democracy

Let the rabble live long, long lives of mediocrity

Living on

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses

If you want to know where the power is

Then open up your eyes

It’s the people who fill them with lies

That there’s no hope for anything more

When you’re born southern and poor

Just give them

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses

Then look away,

Look away

Look away



It Matters

Yes, dear student, it matters that you capitalize the personal pronoun “I” and that you use salutations in your e-mails. It matters that you refrain from keeping your cell phone on your desk and looking at it every few seconds during the lecture. It matters that you do not use the time I give you on the computer to write personal e-mails and post on facebook.

Yes, dear support staff member, it is important that you knock and ask permission to enter the room when I am conducting class, that you do not speak to me disrespectfully in front of my students when I question the timing of repairs on the classroom printer. It matters that you recognize the most important thing our college does is hold classes and that all classes are important, even, perhaps especially, developmental classes.

Yes, dear administrator, it matters that you allow me to explain my position before you summarily dismiss my request, that you do not raise your voice and speak to me in a derisive tone, but speak to me as a fellow educator, someone who has the best interest of students at heart.

Yes, dear me, it matters what you do, even when it isn’t acknowledged, even when you are treated unfairly, even though you aren’t perfect and make mistakes. What you do matters and it matters that you care so deeply. It matters