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


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