Quick. Trick question: What do you call the person in a community college English department who publishes on a regular basis, is multi-talented, energetic, goes to conferences, keeps up in her field, goes above and beyond the call of duty, works way beyond her office hours, and exposes students to great literature and makes them think about things they never thought about before?
You call that person an adjunct.
Or in my case? You call that person gone.
After 17 years of adjuncting (for it most definitely is a verb too), I’ve thrown in the towel. I have given up. The thing is I LOVE teaching. LOVE IT.
What do you call a person who stays at a dead end job with no possibility of advancement?
Trick question? We usually call that person stupid.
The thing is, I don’t like feeling stupid.
Eight years ago my community college didn’t even give me an interview when I applied for an open full-time position. My problem? I didn’t have a PhD from an eastern college. I had years nine years of experience. I’d gone to community college, a UC, a CSU, a private California college. I was first in my family on one side to graduate and the second on the other. I related to the students. I treated them fairly. I came up with interesting assignments. I had a Master’s. I had experience. I had talent.
But I didn’t have a Phd from a college back East.
So I didn’t get an interview, never mind the job.
And in reality my life really has been great. Because I sit on a few committees instead of double digits, I get writing done, I do professional development. I was able to raise two children and have a meaningful relationship. But after 11 years, I hadn’t left the composition ghetto.
It didn’t even matter that I was a published author. Or that I won awards. Or that I had a folder thick of accolades with me and that students loved me. Or that I solved problems in the department.
In 2014 my school hired a couple more adjuncts. And one–who didn’t even have a Master degree (but was a white man with a degree from back East) immediately got to teach anything he wanted to teach while I remained in the composition ghetto. Was it that he was white? Was it that he was from back East? Was it an accident of a tired department head?
I’m going to keep thinking it was the latter just for sanity’s purposes.
So I am doing what all good , highly decorated, highly talented adjuncts do when they realize if they divide their wages into how many hours they actually put into teaching? Well it winds up to be Starbucks wages (no offense Starbucks, I’d work for you in a heartbeat). So, I am leaving. There is no full-time position opening up any time soon unless someone dies or unless evaluations of full-timers suddenly matter and tenure becomes a thing of the past.
You know what I have trouble doing? Looking students who want to be teachers in the face and tell them it’s a good idea. You know what I have trouble doing? Rationalizing the expense of college to students who see that I went to school, won awards, got published, and if it wasn’t for my husband? I wouldn’t have health insurance.
What do you get when you put up with mediocrity?
I will miss the students. I will miss turning them on to good books. I will miss how beautiful it is that today’s student doesn’t give a rat’s ass about norms and labels and is able to live more freely. I will miss the exuberance one feels around the young making their first mistakes.
So another great adjunct bites the dust. I’ve already been replaced in the fall with ‘staffing’. He said, “We have fall staffed.” Sure you do. But do you have teachers? Two anglos btw. Which is fine. Except I was the diversity on campus. No. Literally. I was the diversity in faculty. Which is a whole other kettle of fish. I mean when you’re in a meeting and colleagues are talking about new hires and say things like “that guy’s just like us. He’ll totally fit in.”
Yes, I know. I must have taught as an adjunct too long. All of you already know all this. That’s why you made the smart move never to teach as an adjunct because you didn’t want to be teaching seven classes a semester at three institutions only to have your department head say you couldn’t possibly be qualified because you never taught full-time.
All my teaching has been more than full-time.
I once breastfed two children, volunteered in my community, published, maintained a household, sat on some idiotic committees, and taught seven classes at once. I don’t know how to handle full-time work?! Well, you know what you can do with that, right?
I guess I have self-preservation and self-respect after all.
Adios teaching. It feels. Sad. It feels. Weird. It feels. Odd. It feels. Gone.