In response to a request for an article for the BFC-CSB article submissions page I am providing what is a retrospective on my 35 years at Concordia University in Montreal.
I write it from the point in time where I have been retired now for seven years and have had time to look back and even to consider where things are going for those wanting to follow a career as a professor teaching and researching.
At the outset I should say that my role as a professor was only one dimension of my career at Concordia University. Between 1977 and the mid-1990s I was a partime instructor/lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, teaching introductory courses and more advanced courses in the Sociology Of Education.
In 1986 my role at Concordia was expanded to include my work as the Manager of the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities, a post I held until my retirement at the end of November 2012.
My teaching career was my starting point and it came just after I completed my M.A. in Sociology in June of 1977. I immediately went to the Chair of the Department of Sociology where I asked him if there were any teaching possibilities in the fall of 1977. He indicated that he would let me know and at the end of August he called me giving me a Thursday evening 3 hour class. I jumped at the chance.
I was lucky to get the opportunity to teach and as I look back it strikes me that I was a known quantity to him. I had completed both my undergraduate and graduate studies in the department; so I had a good reputation as a solid teacher. I had worked with professors where teaching was valued and my work as a TA was the evidence for that. At a time when many other graduate students were going for research assistantships I choose to go for teaching assistantships, a decision I feel gave me a leg up on my first position, opening the door for other teaching contracts.
In preparing myself as a visually impaired professor, I put in place many of the supports that I needed. For example, I lined up readers to help me deal with grading of papers and exams. At the time my mother was a great help. Later after I married my wife, Coralie, she picked up the support role and many times over Christmas holidays we graded papers together!
When it was possible to have multiple choice exams graded using computerized answer sheets, I took advantage of that service.
Choosing course textbooks was a challenge. Again readers helped here. I took advantage of books sent to professors by publishers for use in their courses and often selected from these desktop publications.
As we came to the end of the 1980s I was very pleased to allow students to submit term papers to me on disks. WordPerfect was the word processing software that many were using and that made my grading more independent-something I so valued. I’d write comments and print them out and give to the students.
My one challenge was the handling of exams where supervision of students was the concern.. Final exams were handled by the Exams Office where they hired invigilators to take care of the supervision component. The challenge was for midterms where professors usually handled this task themselves. I did take this issue back to the Chair and we discussed it and we came to an arrangement where he recruited a TA to help here. Budget was found and this was the system we used when I taught.
I enjoyed my teaching career and kept my hand in it, even expanding my role as a professor to offer workshops to faculty on how to work with students with disabilities in the classroom I was honoured when people in the faculty development area asked me to work with them on designing workshops for faculty.
In terms of moving into the future I follow with interest where online teaching is going for both students and faculty with disabilities. Just how accessible are the software tools being used today. BlackBoard is one example where it took some time to get accessibility features built into the product. Developments move quickly in the software development area and changes around features can suddenly break the accessibility of the package with consequences for all users with disabilities.
Being an optimist I do feel that we are living in a good time and I urge educators and advocates to engage with each other to move forward to a more inclusive post-secondary system. Think outside of the box and be creative!
Leo A. Bissonnette, Ph.D.