Bob Isaacson's Blog

Welcome to this blog. It is basically a collection of stories, letters, essays, reviews, and poems that I have written over the past years, some of which were published in the Santa Barbara Independent and other local publications.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Letter of Separation from Allan Hancock College, after 32 Years of Teaching

Bob Isaacson in Nipomo Lemon Grove

May 3, 2010

Dear Dr. Ortiz,

This letter is my official notification of my intent to resign from Allan Hancock College as of June 5th, 2010.

I have served the District full time for 32 years and have thoroughly enjoyed a professional career that has allowed for unceasing innovation, creativity and intellectual and personal growth.

During these years, I have been extremely fortunate to work shoulder to shoulder with brilliant and devoted faculty (and several very progressive and supportive administrators, as well) on large and small grant funded innovations, curriculum creation and revision, learning communities, computer enhanced instruction, distance learning, learning styles, team teaching and grading, and several textbooks. Of course, the list is much, much longer than this.

I would like to elaborate on one of these extraordinary opportunities. My most exciting classroom, the one I had been building in my imagination for at least 15 years, finally materialized when I taught my English 101 class at the Lompoc Valley Center in Room 2-214 this past fall: 28 powerful, easy to use, large screen Macintosh computers with stunning visual displays, a very smart instructor podium, complete connectivity to the full resources of the Internet for each student, full access to all the collaborative learning possibilities of Blackboard, and a wonderful data projector for displaying texts, graphics and, videos. For the first and only time in my career, I was finally able to fuse the enormous power of educational technology with all the advantages of traditional, live classroom instruction. I also got our tech people to install a more powerful wireless network in the room, which allowed a blind student to fully participate on his own Braille programmed laptop. Other students, who preferred to work on their personal laptop computers, were able to do so as well. As you can see, in this classroom, the distinctions between live and online learning modalities simply disappeared and reemerged as a wholly integrated, powerfully interfused, unified learning environment. I have come to firmly believe that this is the future direction of education.

Thus, I urge you to tour this incredible classroom and start to see it as the minimum standard for serving our 21st Century students. The District needs to create this powerful, integrated teaching environment in every single classroom at Allan Hancock College, no matter what the discipline, no matter what the cost. It is not necessary for the future. It is necessary for right now. The very ethnically and socio-economically diverse students in my class were not just ready for the technology in Room 2-214. They downright expected it, and they all eagerly took to it like ducks to water the first day of class. For example, because I had more students than computers in the classroom, my students quickly discovered a way that two of them could both share one large 27 inch Macintosh computer screen if one used Safari and the other used Firefox!

I rarely miss, as you can observe, the opportunity for a mini-lecture. However, I guess I should be a bit less didactic at this point in this letter and become more broadly philosophical. Over the years, I have developed a good, better, best approach to teaching. Every time I prepared for an upcoming lesson, I knew I already had developed a good approach, but I was always haunted by what as of yet untried approaches might work even better, and then, finally, which one would work the very best.  In the future, when the District makes important hiring, procedural, and policy decisions that impact the faculty, staff, and students, I urge it to always create the preconditions for such a decision to be between good, better, and best, and to never accept lesser conditions for decision making. If good, better, best are not present in the final options for a decision, simply restart the whole process. My own ceaseless personal inquiry for the best created a great deal of daily stress for me, but, over time, I trust it helped to enhance my pedagogy and enrich the learning of my students. The words of one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, continue to echo in my mind:  “We shall not cease from exploration, /And the end of all our exploring /Will be to arrive where we started /And know the place for the first time.“ Becoming a teacher is such a process. In the end, Eliot reminds us, we only learn one truth: “Humility is endless.” I confess that I have only been a student all these years. Sorry, I guess that I have just delivered yet another mini-lecture.

Oddly, I cannot recall a “bad teaching” day. I think back over time and remember running to class or booting up my computer, excited about the day’s lesson and, always, in my head, puzzling over the many possible options with which to best involve students in “deep” learning, learning that transcends bureaucratic objectivist measurements and explores the daily human responsibility of negotiating complex intellectual growth experiences.

I have been ambivalent about my decision to tender my resignation, but formidable health concerns are now taking up an inordinate amount of my time and energy, and they are likely to do more so in the future. Again, I thank the District for offering me so many rich and fulfilling personal, social, and professional experiences over the last 32 years.

I say the following without reservation: It has been a good ride, a really good ride, and I do not regret a single day of it.



Robert Anton Isaacson
English Professor
Language Arts Department
Allan Hancock College