The Crafting English Prof…

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The Life of the Adjunct… 16 August 2010

So, I was just reading this debate info over at the New York Times page, on Professors and retirement and new professors and whatnot (here’s a link.) I admit, I didn’t read the WHOLE thing (it’s several blog entries and their comments, plus the original Chronicle of Higher Education article here) but I read a goodly portion.  At least enough to get all nervous and ancy again.

Okay, here’s the premise: What with the crappy economy and all, older profs aren’t retiring (mostly) before they’re in the 70s.  Now in the English department, I remember that the old joke is that English profs don’t retire, they just die (sounds really morbid, but really, it’s a tribute to how much most profs love their work–they teach till they can’t teach no more… for example–I’ve been teaching 10 years.  In that 10 years, in the Tampa/St. Pete area Community Colleges, I can recall maybe 8-9 TOTAL positions available in my field, and 5 of those happened this year!)This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–the not retiring until later in life, thing, I mean–because, ideally, the universities and colleges are retaining smart, motivated, engaging professionals who LOVE their jobs.  And most of these individuals are in that category.  But, there’re also the deadwood profs who are sticking around because of financial fears, and this is a drawback.

Another thing discussed in many of the responses, is who is replacing these full-time, tenured professors once they DO retire. Unfortunately, most of them are being replaced with 2 or 3 adjuncts, instead of one full-time, tenure-track prof. I call this “unfortunate” NOT because adjuncts aren’t worthy professors (far from it.  I’m an adjunct myself, and I am a KICK ASS prof) but because the lot of the adjunct is so very grim.  Dire, even.  Okay, admittedly, there are some crappy adjuncts.  Just like there are crappy full-time profs, and crappy police officers and office managers and fast food workers and, well, you know, crappy workers in EVERY job imaginable.  And yes, there are a few adjuncts who hate their jobs (they don’t really stay adjuncts for very long…)  But consider this: the lot of the adjunct professor.

I’ll use myself as an example, and I’m going to be absolutely frank here.

As I said, I’ve been teaching for 10, almost 11, years.  Since right out of grad school. I have a Masters in English, and do have vague plans to get a PhD. Now, for the most part, I love the classroom (admittedly, this coming session is not something I’m terribly looking forward to, but more on that in a minute or three.) I love interacting with my students, imparting my knowledge to them, and learning from them.  That’s the reason I became a teacher in the first place, whether we’re talking my preschool days or my college days.  I love working with students.  It’s a blast!  And consider, every 16 weeks, my routine changes.  That is AWESOME!!!  And, I love working with like-minded individuals who challenge me to be the best English prof I can be, and to learn more about, well, everything.  I’ve been fortunate to work, primarily, with colleagues and administrators who really are keeping the idea of learning in academia.  So, that’s the positive.

Here’s the negative: A regular full-time faculty member’s load is capped at 4, maybe 5 classes, depending on the institution.  Now, yes, they also have other duties they’re required to discharge, including advising and committees and whatnot.  And, they’re compensated accordingly (at least at the institutions I’m familiar with.) This compensation takes the form of what I consider to be a very nice salary, and benefits–you know, insurance, vacation days, sick leave, all that good, fun stuff. Now, here’s the negative I was talking about: I am an adjunct.  Technically, I’m a “part-time” professor.  That’s what adjunct means (actually, you can go here for a full definition of the word.  Let me tell ya, reading that was depressing…).  I teach for 2 colleges; 4 classes at one, 3 classes at the other.  PLUS, I do my own fair share of student advising.  I keep office hours, both face to face and online. Admittedly, I don’t have to worry about committees, but if I want to have a larger voice and presence in the institution’s life, I should attend some. And I would!  I think it would be fun!  But, I don’t have time.  Mainly because, as I mentioned, I teach 7 classes at 2 colleges.

Do I do this for my health?  Hells no!!!! Truth be told, I’m probably one of the unhealthiest people I know (laziness and lack of time.  But I am working on it!) I do this, the teaching 7 classes, just to make ends meet.  And I live, horribly but predictably, paycheck to paycheck.  I have no health insurance (thank you, Obama, for making that a possibility in my nearish future), I have no savings, and because of how academia works, I really have no funds going into social security (we have a social security replacement thingy–Tiaa-Cref…) I have no vacation days (although, yes, I do get quite a bit of time off in between classes.  That’s not as nice a thing as it sounds…) I have no sick days (if I get sick and can’t teach, my pay gets docked.) And, since I have no insurance, I only go to the doctor for the REALLY serious issues, when I can’t avoid it anymore…

Because I’m single, childless woman, I’m not eligible for ANY public assistance, and because my job is classified as temporary/part-time or whatever, I can’t get unemployment in my between months (and fyi–there are 2 months where I don’t get a paycheck AT ALL.) And I need stuff.  Biggish stuff… Expensive-ish stuff…. (like a new car… eek!!!!) How I’m going to get said biggish, expensive-ish stuff, I’ve no clue… I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

I’m not writing this post to complain.  Really, I’m not.  Because honestly, if I don’t like it, I can get out and go elsewhere and get a job.  It might take me a while, in this economy, but hey, I have a master’s degree, which basically means I am a DEMON on the research.  I can get shit done.  Trust me… So eventually, I’d be employed,and I’d probably be employed with bennies and everything (oh, paid vacation days, how I have missed you…) Rather, I’m writing this post because in all my online travels, I’ve never seen anyone give a frank, full depiction of the life of the adjunct.  Actually, I take that back, there was this blog post I read a few months ago… but yeah, I can’t find that blog post now.  Too bad, it was pretty good…. And I think a frank, full depiction of the life of the adjunct is a very beneficial thing to have somewhere, because we put up with a lot in order to stay in a profession that is, for many of us, a labor of love.

Okay, so why am I not really looking forward to this coming session?  Well, mainly because of the 5 full-time positions available this year, I interviewed for 4 of them. And obviously, since I’m still an adjunct, I didn’t get the job.  And that hurt.  And no, it doesn’t really help that I know another worthy adjunct got the job.  Dammit, that was supposed to be mine! (just sayin’) I’ll get back into it, I’m sure, and it’s not my students’ fault I didn’t get the job, so that’s what I’m going to keep in the forefront of my mind this week as I prepare for classes (all 7 of ’em…) I am looking forward to seeing the students.  So I guess that’s something…

So speaking of preparation, I should really get back to that…


UPDATE (8/30): I am happy to report, as of the 1st day of classes last week, I was all nervous and weird and stuff, which, in my world, means that all is at it should be.  I’m still happy to be in the classroom. so, you know, yay! and stuff… ~RLW


Whew! Am I glad that’s over! 8 May 2010

Filed under: Ponderings,Uncategorized — Rana Wilson @ 2:17 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Okay, so it’s not really over.  Well, Spring session at SPC is over… but I’m still in the midst of exams at HCC–have one more to give on Monday, and THEN it’s over.  Then I have a lovely 4 days off before the fun starts all over again for Summer session!  Joy!!! Okay, really, I’m okay with it… but I do wish we had a bit more time between Spring and Summer.  Cuz, see, we get this lovely month off after Summer session (which is always when the creative finances come out to play… but that’s another post altogether…)

So, let’s see here…. Okay, I want to give some kudos to my SPC students, they (mostly) did really well.  and so far, so have the HCC students.  We’ll see how the Monday students do.  But I wanted to mention one student in particular (who’s partially to blame for me starting a blog…) and the idea he prompted me to start looking into earlier this week.  Although, I have to say, at the moment, it’s still just an idea, and I haven’t had a chance to look into it… So, I always offer my students extra credit in the form of a writing / reading journal.  Very few of them take me up on it, and fewer still do well on it, usually not realizing the difference between a writing journal and a diary.  But every once in a while I get a most awesome gem.  A few sessions ago, it was the journal of an artist, who incorporated her artwork with her thoughts on the various things she read or saw, and it was just one of the coolest looking journals I’ve ever seen. It was also well written, because she was (and is) a particularly conscientious student.

This past session, the journals I received were good, but in general by no means spectacular.  Except for one particular student. This particular student, Chris, asked if a blog would be okay. I thought the idea sounded brilliant, not least because then I could read it throughout the session, and not be inundated by it at the end, but also because I remembered this guy from the Comp 1 class he took with me, and I remembered the wonderful insights he had on the quotation assignments I did that summer, and how I was always a bit sad to see his work end. He has such an interesting voice, that I literally couldn’t wait to see his work.

So, what was the idea he prompted, you ask?  I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it! (yes, I love a good tangent…) Okay, so in Chris’s last post on the journal blog (which you can find here…) he mentioned that he would like to take a class in “blogging (or perhaps online writing)” which triggered in the dim recesses of my memory the graduate work that a friend of mine was doing a few years ago.  In fact, her dissertation is on blogging.  I’ve not had a chance to read it, but I’d certainly like to, particularly since she’s brilliant, and I’ve found myself, over the last week, itching to write something here (curses on having too much work…)  (Oh, Chris also said I was unafraid to try new things. Seriously, she could teach the instructors of my more technical classes a few things about being innovative. Office hours on Skype was particularly great.”  That just plum tickled me… Seriously, that’s like the best compliment I could EVER possibly receive as a professor.) Okay, so back to the idea Chris prompted… I often try (and rarely succeed) to incorporate info on resume writing in my classes, because it’s important, and well, I used to be a resume writer.  So that, I know.  But the minute Chris expressed a wish to see a class on online writing, I got to thinking, what exactly would that entail?  I know that there could be (and probably is, at some other institution) a full class already developed for this.  And I think there’s a definite need for it.  Think of all the different types of online writing there is–emailing, blogging, commenting, Skype, twitter, Facebook, MySpace, online courses… the list literally goes on for days… These are just things that I’ve used, and I freely admit, I’m jumpin’ in the boat a bit late here (for instance, I’m teaching my FIRST EVER online class this summer…) And the caliber of writing I’ve seen online runs the gamut from brilliant, both technically and contextually, to downright dismal.  I’ve seen blogs from people trying to be legitimate, and who probably have very good ideas, that I quite frankly COULD NOT make heads or tails of! And let’s not get started on the tech aspects of the whole deal… So, what would one include in class on online writing, or, more specifically for me, a module on online writing?  This should, ideally, be a thing that occurs AFTER the basics of Academic writing have been covered. And obviously, those same guidelines I request that my students follow in their academic papers would be relaxed in a class on online writing, but what else would be included?  Definitely a tidbit on tone, and persuasive arguments (some of the comments I’ve read on various articles and whatnot are appalling! So rude!)

I know that this is something that I’m going to have to ponder for a while, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  This definitely seems like something that needs to be included in the curriculum…



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