A Valuable Lesson about Contracts before Declining Other Offers

Last week, I was geeked about being offered Business Writing and Technical Writing at campus #3, the nearby community college (through email, contingent on an interview). During the interview, both the chair (who will be teaching in London in the spring) and the co-chair greeted me with enthusiasm. As I sat on the couch, they casually asked about my experience teaching at a community college in another state (I loved it, except the hour long drive), if I knew so-and-so in Sociology who died (I did not), what I’m doing now (teaching at campuses #1 and #2), who the dean is at campus #1 (Yes, Bob is still there), who the other one is who deals with transfers (The Associate Dean), me being a poet (why, yes, I am), if I had heard of their journal (I had and am impressed with its quality), and would I be interested in teaching both Technical Writing and Business Writing (of course).

“We will have a better idea of the schedule next week. There has been some recent changes regarding faculty members.”

They casually mentioned that a third class might be available, which I hoped to be a creative writing course. I went home and checked the course schedule, and indeed, there was an unstaffed Introduction to Creative Writing course.

Upon finding this out, I emailed the woman at the pharmacy school to decline my interview, which was scheduled at 1:30p the following day. There were two candidates, she had stated, and there is a possibility of a second section of the researched argumentation class opening. I wrote that I did not want to take the opportunity away from candidate #2, in case he or she has room to cover 2 sections. She wished me luck.

The following Tuesday, I was emailed by the co-chair with an offer for one class (Technical Writing) only. I was confused.

“That is all we can offer at this time.”

I checked the schedule again, and sure enough, the Business Writing course had been offered to someone else, an adjunct faculty with seniority. The creative writing course and a couple of developmental writing courses were still unstaffed, so I emailed the co-chair and chair, indicating how thrilled I was to be offered the Technical Writing course (evening class), that I would be by the next day to pick up the materials and to fill out my new-hire paperwork. I also reiterated my availabilities during the day and asked to be considered for any other open courses.

“There is a section of developmental writing on TR 11:30-12:50p. I assume this is too early for you.”

“No, my class at campus #1 ends an hour before. I’ll have plenty of time to get to your campus for this class.” (Truly, it’s 45 minutes in between and about 20 minutes away without traffic.)

If I ever need an example of desperation to look back upon, here it is. I half-way blame myself for trusting the verbal offer, but I’m livid about their lack of consideration. Why build up my expectations for two, possibly three classes? True, they did not know I was considering another offer, but they wouldn’t have cared. I am disposable, after all.

I considered emailing the woman at the pharmacy school again. She had sent an urgent plea on Wednesday to my MFA program director for applications to fill the position I turned down. I decided against it for my sanity. I cannot put myself through teaching at 3 colleges at faraway locations (north, west, and south of a sprawling metropolitan) with 4 class preps and 5 classes AND expect to job search and prepare for an out-of-state relocation by summer 2011.

I’m only one human.

The Idealistic Student Decides to Withdraw

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about an insightful student who is struggling with his ideals and being in college. Apparently, family drama has ensued that requires him to now take care of his nephew and niece. He cannot juggle work, new responsibilities, and his college courses.

He wants to enroll again in my class next semester, and I hope that he does.

I tell him, per our previous conversation: “I hope you find some time for yourself to be among trees.”

3/4ths into the First Semester of Immersion

I haven’t quite checked-out yet, but I’m approaching my limit. I knew 5 classes would consume my life. Already knowing my tendency to over-work myself, I really thought it would be manageable. Besides, lots of adjuncts juggle five courses. Some even have families to maintain.

I calculated how many pages of essays I will have read (bonus points for usage of future perfect tense, lol) by the end of this semester: 55 English Composition I students at 9x(3-pg) papers, 18 Honors Freshman Composition students at 24 pgs, 7 Feature Writing students at 20 pgs. That’s roughly 2,050 pages. This number does not include first drafts and subsequent revisions, in-class freewrites, reader responses, and quizzes. Then there are textbooks (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and countless other resource materials. There is also that minor thing called prep work, office hours, writing consultations, email communication, and various additional accommodations for students with perpetual time-management issues.

While I’m more optimistic about my career now compared to last year, it’s hard not to look at these numbers and deem the whole thing ridiculous. What’s the return, really? Besides feeling “useful” and having some relative impact in the world, there’s not much to hold on to. The wage is low, and there is no health-insurance. There’s also no semblance of job security: due to scheduling conflicts with campus #1 (and campus #2 having 15 sections less of Eng. Comp.), I was not given any courses at campus #2. Being the “last one hired,” I lost.

I’m not sure if I completely buy this excuse, however. The day before I was informed by the English Chair, I had tried to help a student who was looking for her professor. Not knowing who this professor was, I asked the Dean of Humanities whose office was a few doors down. It being an unseasonably warm day, I neglected to realize that I did not have my jacket on. I was already walking in front of the Dean before I thought about my tattoos at the nape of my neck (Venus symbol and Kanji for the four elements). This campus is relatively conservative, so I had attempted to conceal my body art throughout the semester. The only thing visible is my nose ring (common enough), and at times, my Baybayin wrist tattoo.

Nonetheless, I’ve been told that adjuncts getting dropped in the spring semester happens all too frequently as enrollment decreases. I had high hopes of being given at least one section, though.

It’s too bad for campus #2, too, because my students inquired about signing up for my class next semester if I was going to teach English Composition II. (A few joked about following me to campus #1.) Additionally, I just received a great review from a full-time faculty member who was required to observe one of my classes: “Dynamic teacher…students were engaged…and clearly enjoyed class.” He was just as clueless as I was about the purpose of the observation and why it was now being implemented half-way through the semester, especially now that I wasn’t going to be teaching there next semester. I did understand, though, the reason behind this assessment from an administrative standpoint. Being familiar with Higher Ed administration politics from my previous stint in Student Affairs during graduate school, I understand that the trickle of commands is not usually accompanied by explanations. It’s in their best interest to keep the minions in the dark.

As such, I had to scramble, mid-semester, to find another position elsewhere. Thankfully, I was able to land two interviews: one at a 0-6 pharmacy school and another at a nearby community college. I decided to decline to teach researched argumentation at the pharmacy school because of the distance (33 miles away) and frequency (MWF) after the nearby cc offered one section of Business Writing (already full, capped at 25) and one section of Technical Writing (almost at 20). I’m completely enthralled: it’s 2 miles away and the department is amazingly receptive. Maybe such perks will be enough to make up for an increase in number of students and a slight decrease in pay. I’m hoping that they offer a third class, which was hinted at during my interview.

A second blow to my job security is that I will not know if both of my Honors Comp sections at campus #1 will be filled until a couple of weeks before the semester begins. It helps, I suppose, that I’ve worked in several capacities outside of academia (in order of occurrence): dental assistant (story for another time), fast food server, retail clerk, book/music seller, barista, freelance journalist, tutor, special-events coordinator, grant writer, editor, research facility guinea pig, etc.

I picked an opportune time to be an adjunct. There are millions of people without jobs. I willingly quit a job with health-insurance and relative security in exchange for a certain kind of freedom. I’m still confident that I made the right decision. What keeps me going are my students, the potential for growth, and everything I’m learning about myself and the world.

A Case Study: The Idealistic Student

Every semester, we have a spectrum of students: the slacker, the clueless, the goal-oriented. There are those whose main priorities are the location of the next party–clearly not ready to transition into adulthood. There are those who are overworked, juggling life and the pursuit of a better-paying job. There are those who stare blankly into the room during discussion or not-so-slyly look through their cell-phones.

This semester in my Honors Freshman Composition class, I lucked out with several very involved students. One in particular, a non-traditional student, stands out as intensely enthusiastic about learning. His first paper, a Personal Narrative, was a fictionalized account of his itinerant days. He received an A. I encouraged him to submit to the undergraduate literary journal.

A group project/presentation that involved another student, with whom he had had numerous (ideologically-)combative discussions with during class, caused him some trouble. He wrote a freewrite/critique full of angst–“we SUCKED!”–and proceeded to explain in two pages what had happened.

[Paraphrase:] “I was slighted. She would not take into account my viewpoints or contact me about working on the project. I felt under-prepared because the PowerPoint was not how it was supposed to be. She changed it without my knowledge.”

He spoke to me after class. I assured him that it did not seem as if he was under-prepared, only seemingly exhausted. They received an A for the project.

In contrast, a few weeks later, he led a group of more passive students to create a splendid mock-promotional advertisement for high school students, encouraging them to major in the natural sciences. (The other groups created promotional ads for social sciences, applied sciences, and humanities.) The presentation involved a well-executed script, a recruitment flier, costume (a military-style jacket similar to the character in the flier), even.

The next paper, a Persuasive Essay, appeared to be going in a similar trajectory. He decided to pursue a theory he’d had as a child, regarding a supposed antagonist (Skeletor) of an 80s cartoon series (Masters of the Universe) being the true protagonist. He meant to expose the screwed-up ideologies of “civilization.” He spent some 30 hours reviewing the entire series again and writing his paper. It was full of brilliant ideas. He received a B+. (The class curve was typical–mostly C papers.)

He spent the rest of the hour fuming, writing responses to all of my suggestions. He requested to speak to me after class. In hindsight, I should have given him a day to process his anger. We had a 3-hour long consultation. We discussed mechanics–whether a comma was necessary or whether to use “who” or “that” for a demonic, animalistic character (an intentional, stylistic choice, he insisted). I assured him that these did not affect his grades. The larger issues–clarity, coherence, organization of his supporting materials–were more difficult to explain.

He’s very much against the mechanical approach of how essays are structured. (I agreed and had encouraged him to exercise some creativity in approach during his Personal Narrative.) Yet, he was adamant that his presentation of ideas was clear enough to the reader. His prose, though, was immensely detailed and complex that it detracted from his overall point, causing me, as an uninformed reader, to be confused, thus making his argument convoluted.

“I still don’t understand. What do I need to do to prevent another B+?”

He wanted concrete answers on how to make his B+ paper into an A paper, and I could only give him suggestions based on what’s expected out of him (to be aware of his audience), as a writer in an academic setting.

This then led to a conversation about general disdain for his college classes–because the system is constricting–possibly resulting in him dropping out after the semester is over.
(How does one explain to a student to work within the system if he’s vehemently against it and does not value its conventions?)

“I miss sleeping in trees. I can work for $12 an hour and essentially play all day. Or I can drive an ice cream truck and make $100K a year, working only 5 months.”

“Why are you in college, then?”

“For security. When I get old and can no longer work, society will not take care of me.” (We had discussed in an earlier class about “taker” and “leaver” societies based on Daniel Quinn’s philosophical novel, Ishmael.) “If I get a degree in education, I can spend minimal time preparing and teaching, yet I’ll have security later on.”

“How do you feel about having to sacrifice your ideals to be part of the system?”

My phone rang. He apologized for taking up so much of my time. I encouraged him to come chat with me again.