Thoughts on Adjuncting

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Over the past many days, in a quiet house, I have been reading and re-reading my students' memoirs. Turning their considered pages with care. Filling the margins with notes. Reminding the students' of their own aspirations for themselves. Saying yes, or how about this, or what if, or ....

There could be no higher privilege.

What stretches me, fulfills me, energizes me? Teaching. What campus feels like home? My alma mater, my employer, the great and glorious University of Pennsylvania. I am lucky to teach and lucky to teach there. But I am an adjunct, plain and simple, and as an adjunct I am aware of the concerning status of the job.

Yesterday a friend pointed the way to this story in, about the challenges faced by adjuncts. Becky Tuch wrote the piece (which first appeared in Beyond the Margins). It was titled: "Professors in homeless shelters: It is time to talk seriously about adjuncts." It presented a conversation Tuch hoped to have with AWP, which did not (apparently) address the adjunct crisis that has thrummed for many years across American campuses during AWP's recent Seattle gathering. From the story:

Here’s the thing, AWP. The percentage of teaching positions occupied by non-tenure-track faculty has more than tripled in the past four decades. According to the Adjunct Project, “Two-thirds of the faculty standing in front of college classrooms each day aren’t full-time or permanent professors.” The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “the shadowy world of would-be academia is filled with people cobbling together five or six such teaching gigs at once. That’s possible because some 70 percent of college courses offered are now taught by adjuncts — part-timers who are paid a pittance and have no job security.”
Dig deeper into the adjunct story (as I often do) and you will discover stories of heartache—stories about teachers who changed the lives of students but who lived, and died, as paupers. Stories about teachers who must drive and drive and drive—from one post to another—just to bring a sustaining wage home to a small room. The job of a teacher is to give—the right lessons, the right hope, the right instructions, a listening ear. It is so very difficult to be a giver—to have the energy to care—under grueling circumstances.

I am lucky. I work—as an author, as a consultant—so that I might teach one course one semester each year. I go to a campus that I love in a city that I love and work among colleagues for whom I have great respect. I meet students who change my life. I learn from them.

I am hardly alone in loving this job. But I am cognizant, as we all must be cognizant, that others who love this work as much as I do are struggling, mightily, to be able to do it. Struggling to afford to be able to do it. Struggling to buy the gas for the car, the ticket for the train, the cup of coffee for the student who needs to talk.

(More information can be found at The Adjunct Project.

If all the underpaid teachers in this nation just one day up and quit, what would happen then? What would become of our students, our campuses, our planet? Sure, there are new ways of learning—online courses that get some of the teaching done. But what matters, too—what adjunct teaching can and often does provide—is that  teacher who knows your name, that teacher who sees if you've gone missing, that teacher who searches for you and says, Are you okay?, that teacher who says, Do I have a book for you.

We need our teachers—it's obvious, I think.

And we need our teachers to be okay.


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