Community Education Program is always searching for that next great instructor
Photos and Story by Sarah Rose Evans
Do you have what it takes to teach a non-credit course at Portland Community College? If so, the college’s Community Education Program may have a spot for you.
The program offers hundreds of non-credit classes each term and enrolls more than 25,000 students annually. Classes range from languages like Irish Gaelic to wine pairing to one-on-one fitness training. Miriam Budner, a program coordinator for Community Education, said a great instructor cultivates a community in their classes.
“We are seeking instructors with a real interest in connecting with students and connecting students to each other,” Budner said. “In many of our classes, we’re interested in building community, community expertise or community explorations. The instructor is not just an expert and a font of knowledge, but also a facilitator.”
Brian Ó hAirt fits the prototype that Budner looks for. He has taught Irish Gaelic at PCC for three years and enjoys working with students to find ways to make language learning more accessible.
Ó hAirt also wants to place language in the context of history, as well as make his classes as fun and interactive as possible.
“What I go for in general is getting people to laugh,” Ó hAirt said. “They also wan some sort of connection, so getting them to laugh and loosen up a little bit is important, especially over this past year.
Teaching for Community Ed
When looking for an instructor, PCC seeks someone who is curious and steeped in their subject matter. Plus, they have a great passion for their class topics, love teaching, and want to share that with the community.
“I’m a product of community college,” he continued. “Working at PCC is an opportunity for me to continue this important journey of supporting education regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s to foster community. A lot of these people will become my friends and, to me, that’s important. It breaks down that whole hierarchy of education. I’m doing my bit to really support our community and learn within our community.”
Ó hAirt takes his students through an educational journey that can be heavy, too. He discusses when Irish immigrants came to the United States and how they were put at the lowest socioeconomic rung of the ladder. Then, to climb the ladder, some of them waged violence against other marginalized groups.
Eleni Woldeyes, who teaches Ethiopian cooking classes, loves connecting with her students, as well. In addition to her PCC courses on making Injera and other Ethiopian dishes, Woldeyes sells sauces in retail stores like New Seasons Market and Market of Choice, as well as at farmers markets.
“The best part of teaching is that connection to people,” Woldeyes said. “Teaching about Ethiopian food makes me feel like I’m sharing my story and being authentic.”
One benefit of teaching via Zoom during the pandemic is that cooking classes are much more hands-on. Students will buy and prepare the ingredients themselves, participating in every step of the process. For harder-to-find spices, Woldeyes will mail them to her students in advance of the class.
“It’s fun to see your students in their own kitchens,” Woldeyes said.
Art instructor Leslie Barnum has had to adapt her courses for the pandemic, as well. She teaches six classes focusing on watercolor, ink and mixed media.
“I’ve learned to create and edit videos using my iPhone. I also use it for a painting demonstration during my classes,” Barnum said. “I’ve heard from my students that these classes were a real lifesaver. This year has been tough for a lot of people, and Community Ed has been their connection.”
Barnum shared that it is especially meaningful helping people who have never been able to explore their artistic talents. They are now open to try new things.
“I appreciate the connection with my students,” she said. “Many of my students are retired people who are finally able to try something that they’ve always wanted to try. There are so many people that always had an interest in art, but never tried it. Helping people explore is really great.”