I’m winding down three slightly different freshman basketweaving courses at two institutions right now, which is much more boring and difficult than you might initially think. This is mostly because I’ve hit a point where I teach pretty much the same thing in every class. There are only so many ways you can jazz up freshman basketweaving: eventually, you have to call a basket a basket and accept that baskets are only capable of so much. Anyway, my point is this: I’m boring myself with my own teaching, and I can’t remember to which class I mentioned what because they’re all pretty much the fucking same.
To make things worse for me as I trudge my way through these pages-short essays and senseless citations and lifeless lesson plans: I’m mere days away from leaving behind my own personal world of college misery for what right now seems like a dewy, pure, untouched land of freedom and money in the private sector.
I’m sure once I arrive in the capitalist oasis of a cubicle in an air-conditioned building an hour from home, I’ll look back fondly – or, perhaps, even with a sense of homesickness – on my time as an adjunct instructor. But now, right now, in this dreamy purgatory, hovering just above comma splices and in-text citations without reference entries and overuse of personal experience as evidence, I can look outward and see the faint glow of potential happiness.
This summer semester has been -- well, it’s been something. I currently have the most obnoxious student I have ever had the misfortune of teaching, and I’ve had my fair share of doozies. He is a jock at a community college without an athletics program. He loves his car and his abs and his supposed future as an engineer. His first piece of writing on the first day informed me of three things:
- He learned nothing in the previous basketweaving course.
- He hates baskets.
- He wants an A in this course.
This summer-snowflake has not made the semester very fun for me or his classmates. He’s not disruptive; he just acts as if he is better than everyone else. He complains about his B-range grades on the discussion forums; he zones out during class only to ask what we’re doing when we break into groups for activities; he brings his textbook on all the days we’re not using it. In a small summer section, his idiocy is off-putting to the other students, and I find it incredibly annoying. But, on the bright side, his nigh-unshakable belief that he is smarter than I am when it comes to basketweaving leads him to ignore my helpful advice, comments and feedback on his work. There is some justice in the world, and it is shaped like a C-.
On the other hand, I also have a dozen students who have made my summer an absolute pleasure. I have received two separate emails in the last two weeks from students thanking me for their non-A grades and my feedback on a huge project. I have students whose thinking and writing about basketweaving is improving right before my – and their – eyes. Many of them will go on to do good, if not great, things.
Still, despite these small victories, I am only an adjunct, and the job is just, in the end, a job. I came down with a potentially scary health problem in the middle of the term, requiring an ER visit and a call to a sub to cover a couple of classes. I returned the following week to the yellow admin paper in my mail folder stating that my absences would be unpaid. This in spite of the fact that in a haze of pain and fever, I put together a sensible lesson plan, contacted the sub myself, and emailed my students to let them know about the sub. The only thing I did not do while I was in the ER was stand up in front of the class and deliver the lesson myself.
Alas, I am an adjunct, and I only get paid for the time I am physically present in the classroom. I can teach like shit, I can forget to do the reading that I assigned, I can take my sweet time giving feedback on essays, and I can make shit up as I go along, and I’ll still get paid. (I don’t do this, for the record, but it is ever more attractive the closer I come to the end.)
But heavens forfend if I come down with an actual illness that makes it literally impossible for me to stand up straight, let alone for two hours in front of two dozen faces. Taking time away from the classroom – even if you do all the preparatory, invisible work of grading and planning – is just too far. Adjuncts are, quite literally, the Wal-Mart employees of higher education. Nothing in my career of teaching has made this more apparent to me than the “unpaid absence” check-mark and subsequent stunted paycheck two weeks later.
So, you can imagine my delight when the voice from the dewy capitalist oasis said: “Job offer. Benefits. Overtime pay. 401(k). Paid time off.” I had nearly forgotten those words existed in that order.
Here it is, then: goodbye, college misery. Goodbye, good students. Goodbye, bad students. And good riddance, adjunct employment. May you rot in hell.
- Lucy from Leadville