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.