I’ve been part of many communities in my career, but one of my most sustainable ones is the community of world language teachers we’ve formed in North Carolina. I chose this picture, taken at the annual meeting of SCOLT, the Southern Conference on Language Teaching last spring, because it shows many aspects of what makes this community so special. First, our members are diverse, in experience, in age, in gender, in the settings in which we work, and especially in the languages we teach. Second, we share a commitment to growth that makes connecting together seem worthwhile. Third, we like connecting with each other to share things. And fourth, we find ways to keep up this commitment by sharing the burden of keeping the organization alive. And many people pictured here have multiple leadership roles in multiple organizations, each in their own state or region. Together, we really do and achieve a lot!
I’ve thought a lot recently about what makes for a strong community, and also why, in academe, we don’t always have strong communities. I think sometimes professors can get caught up in their own individual worlds, in their exciting but fairly individual projects, and not really look out to others on their campus to form connections or share ideas. Perhaps it’s a function of the jam-packed days that are typical of our work life in America. To me, this is a lost opportunity, which, if we could find it again, could help sustain those of us who are mid-career, entering late-career, and maybe also be a benefit to our younger colleagues who have recently joined us.
My hope for the future with respect to creating community (or maintaining what we have in our department and college) would be to draw people together around a common goal most everyone agrees is worthwhile– and to create opportunities for people to share their expertise and ideas around that idea. Communities need common space, common purpose in which to operate. And most of all, they need a way to exist over time, where many people contribute, where people lead from where they are and offer what they can. When there are enough people to bear the load of work to be done, the community is sustainable.
(And I’ll try to do better in this community by managing my own jam-packed, final days of OCSA better in the future! Or honestly … maybe I won’t, because these days are so limited and dear, and may not come again in my career. And in that case, dear colleagues, I will ask you to forgive me until I can carry my weight once more! -BAM)