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Sixteen Teachers Teaching: Two-year College Perspectives

reviewed by Eleanor Wilson - March 21, 2022

coverTitle: Sixteen Teachers Teaching: Two-year College Perspectives
Author(s): Patrick Sullivan
Publisher: Utah State University Press, Logan
ISBN: 1607329026, Pages: 309, Year: 2020
Search for book at Amazon.com

The words of the late bell hooks remind us the classroom remains the most the most radical space of possibility in the academy.1 hooks premise underlies 16 Teachers Teaching: Two Year College Perspectives edited by Patrick Sullivan, a long-time teacher of English at Manchester Community College in Manchester, Connecticut. Sullivans intent is to portray the lives and pedagogical beliefs of English classroom teachers and students in open-admission two-year colleges, where 41% of undergraduates in the U.S. now enroll. 2 The book compiles 16 case studies contributed from community college faculty and students. Sullivan views community colleges as an aspect of democracys unfinished business. This is a timely contribution to literature focusing on the need for re-examining the English and writing curriculum in academic and social/emotional ways to address the needs of 21st century learners.

The history of community colleges is a long and somewhat complicated one. A recent text estimates that at the close of the twentieth century, two-year colleges enrolled 5,743,000 students, 96% of whom attended public community colleges. Sullivan cites The Truman Commission Report of 1947 as central to paving the way for the creation of the modern community college and other higher education initiatives. The Report urged the nation to address structural patterns of inequality related to race, class, and gender, and tasked colleges and universities to envision a larger role for higher education in the national life in the 21st century (p. 4).

The organization of the book is unique, as Sullivan acknowledges, in framing his rationale for the design of this book within the context of current calls for expanding community colleges and a growing concern nationally about teaching English, especially writing. Sullivan is also eager to heighten the visibility of community colleges in their communities (pp.1820). To this end, the book illustrates differing approaches and issues related to teaching English in community colleges from the voices of student and faculty, accompanied by photographs of students and including lengthy references of works cited. Reflecting on the varied voices involved in the life of a community college, Sullivan says there has never been a scholarly book quite like this&it is certainly time we have one (p. 3). The book is divided into four sections which include contributions from students as well as instructors; each section opens with a snapshot of students enrolled in a community college.

Part 1, An Introduction to Teaching Writing at the Community College Level, consists of four essays written from the perspectives of students and a faculty member, and addresses issues affecting faculty and students who teach and study in community colleges. Several of the entries describe the process of designing classes that reflect issues of importance for students in their classrooms. In the entry Encouragement, a student writes of the need for instruction to be paced in ways that are reasonable for nontraditional students, noting that the two-year college is an open and accepting environment in its very nature, yet in many cases these students have lives outside the classroom that often conflict with their academic loads, which need to be acknowledged. The student concludes in saying the greatest gift a professor can give to the two-year college student is self-confidence and the belief in their own strengths and possibilities (p. 68).

The five essays in Part 2, Teaching Informed by Compassion and Theory, focus on course design from several perspectives and includes sample syllabi and theories of teaching writing, along with the student perspective on effective teachers. In this section, Sullivan begins an interview with a colleague who is now an administrator, asking him about his basic beliefs when designing English and writing classes. The interviewee responds rather ruefully, saying he feels theres no one way to achieve his goals, that he was never satisfied, but that regular revisions keep him fresh (p 120). Another student wrote: Strive to be patient with your students because it takes time. If you see one of your students struggling, ask them if they need help&remember to pick reading youre passionate about and that will encourage students to be feel passionate about English as well (pp 125126). The syllabi illustrated in this section reflect ways in which teachers design classes to be responsive to student needs and varying academic backgrounds, a caution reflected in students urging teachers to always consider the prior academic preparation of each student sitting in their classes.

Part 3, Equity and Social Justice at the Two-year College, addresses issues of social justice in the two-year curriculum. One of the essays cites the importance of hiring teachers of color and identifies their relative absence in classrooms today, particularly in community colleges. Several approaches to developing writers in English at community colleges are described in detail and illustrate ways to incorporate current issues in curriculum. A former community college student who dropped out of his first enrollment and returned after several years found that the so-called stigma of being enrolled in a community college was in fact untrue and reflects on the values he found as a returning student: (The community college) is an open culture where things we that have in common greatly outweigh those we dont&we are all here for one reason: We want to be here...Were here because community colleges offer us a way to achieve things we  otherwise couldnt...There is no shame here no judgment. We get each other, respect each other, and nurture each other (p. 152).

In Part 4, New Approaches to Teaching Developmental Reading and Writing, several essays from faculty describe the evolution of their courses over time as they and review the pedagogy they find most relevant and effective with their students in English writing classes. One faculty member focuses on developing successful Advanced Learning classes, providing a timetable of his growth as an instructor in an English writing classes program.3 Another faculty member talks of the disappointment teachers feel when students do not successfully reach passing goals, and describes collaborative planning with other community college faculty who are equally concerned about similar issues. A table showing the numbers of teachers of English development writing shows that only a fraction of teachers have been specifically trained with methods to guide student achievement (p. 252). An essay from a former student highlights the challenges she faced as a returning student with little background beyond high school: Having a developmental English teacher willing to work with students like myself with little writing experience or academic was critical to my comfort and success in the classroom (p. 244).

The two final essays in Part 5, Conclusion: A Push to Citizenship, call for enhanced scholarship of teaching and learning and ways this will be achieved as faculty reconcile research with the demands of teaching. Sullivan returns to his interview with a colleague who urges those presently teaching in community colleges, or intending to teach, that community colleges are our work which is driven to achieve a public good&(they) are democracys open door providing affordable access to a college education for all (p. 288). Again, this interview and exchange illustrates commitment to teach in community colleges and a belief in their critical value in Americas educational offerings today.


The organization of this book, grouping sources and differing approaches to the teaching of English and writing in community colleges, enriches the text and provides differing perspectives of life in community colleges today. A lifelong educator in community colleges, Sullivan is passionate about his teaching and dedicated to making instructive effective and relevant to the needs of its students. Faculty contributions reflect a desire and willingness to collaborate with colleagues in the design and content of English and writing classes. Student essays add depth to discussion and highlight the importance of finding support in their experiences. Several themes are illustrated throughout the book: the first is the desire to make English classes and developmental writing class rigorous and relevant to the needs of 21st century students, and the second is the desire of students to be mentored and valued in their classes. Students describe different perspectives and identify the individual caring and support of instructors and fellow students as key to their feelings of success in the community colleges. Its safe to say that this volume is an important piece to understanding the life of community colleges and the significance of their contributions as part of our countrys unfinished business. Readable and sourced from varied perspectives, this book is interesting and informative, reflective of varied aspects of the life of community colleges.



hooks, bell. (2014). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.  


Community Colleges (2022) - The History of Community Colleges, The community college is largely a phenomenon of twentieth-century American higher education. The label applies to an array of institutions that offer six-month vocational diplomas; one- and two-year vocational, technical, and pre-professional certificates; and two-year programs of general and liberal education leading to an associate degree. Two-year colleges may be public, private, proprietary, or special purpose, although public institutions represent most community colleges in the 21st century. States, counties, municipalities, school districts, universities, and religious denominations have all organized community colleges. Some were designed for specific racial and ethnic groups, for women, or for specific purposes such as business, art, or military training.


ALP attempts to combine the strongest features of earlier mainstreaming approaches and, thereby, to raise the success rates and lower attrition rates for students placed in developmental writing.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 21, 2022
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 24010, Date Accessed: 3/25/2022 8:27:39 PM

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About the Author
  • Eleanor Wilson
    University of Virginia
    E-mail Author
    ELEANOR WILSON, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the Education School of the University of Virginia. Her most recent publications focus on the design and implication of creating international student teaching placements. She taught an introduction to teaching course in community college and has written about creating opportunities for students enrolled in community colleges desiring to teach to transfer to four-year colleges. She is the author of The Curry School at the University of Virginia 1905-2005.
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