Friday, September 4, 2015

Krabby Kathy With A Complicated Friday Thirsty.

I taught developmental English for several years at a community college and eventually got the adjunct shaft. I dropped a student for nonattendance, who complained to the department chair and she asked that I reinstate him. Soon after, I had a review by this department chair. I had classes scheduled for the next semester, and after her visit to my class, these scheduled classes disappeared. All my emails to the chair went ignored or unanswered. A month later, I got my review: She had declared me incompetent. The basis of my incompetence was that I read to my students and I deleted things off Blackboard after a couple weeks. Horrors!

Again, emails to her went unanswered and I finally wrote a rebuttal to the review and also wrote to the dean. No response. I finally got in contact with another adjunct, who also had been dropped, but she (this adjunct) called the dean – she seemed to be on a first name basis with him—and got reinstated. I decided that since this college rotated its department chair, I would approach the next chair but this department chair WILL NOT LEAVE, and it has been FOUR years.

I had a full-time job in another field until a layoff two years ago. I always figured that my teaching would be a nice side job, not so much for the money, but to keep mentally active. In the last two years, I have applied to various positions and in fact even got an interview recently for a full-time position. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for two weeks after I had a tummy tuck and I was still walking very carefully and having periods of pure exhaustion. I wanted the experience of the committee interview although I was not really interested in the school’s location. During the interview, I could tell when I really wasn’t functioning all that well, but as I said, I wanted the experience of the interview and I certainly got that.

One question asked me at the interview was “What would you like us to know?” and I mentioned the bad review. I said it was unfair, but did not go into much more detail. Later, I was able to get in contact with a trustee for the school I had taught at and asked that he inquire about the status of the review. He did, and he told me that these performance reviews were NOT released to inquiring schools. BUT, what really pissed me off was that he said that staff at the school (the one I had taught at) would look at the SITE THAT MUST NOT BE NAMED when they themselves were researching a job candidate. I described to him that site, asked him to look at it, and asked that that practice cease.

I had two people who will give me letters of recommendation at the school I had taught at – that is I had two. Now I have one. The other one will not respond to my emails, phone messages or letter. I do not think I have offended her in some way.

At this point, I have started a new nonteaching job, but I still would like to teach again at some point. I need to focus on paying bills and saving money, but I know I have big decisions in the future.

When I fill out applications, I list the department chair’s name but give HR’s phone number.

My questions: 
  1. How would you refer to the bad review, if at all? 
  2. How do you handle references when you are years out of school and have a minimal number of colleagues for LOR? My graduate advisor has been happy to supply LOR but I really don’t want to keep asking him.


  1. While teaching effectiveness can be subjective, at my college, we have a form for evaluation. Cutting an adjunct based on a single class eval is not common here. I suspect there is more to the case. I would suspect that other students went to the chair or dean. The fact that your second reference has pulled out is a red flag to me.

    If you really want to teach, then it might be valuable to you to do some research into teaching strategies. Yes, teaching keeps you mentally challenged, but you are teaching to educate students. Teaching is for others. It is a selfless act.

    I would counter the bad review by asking myself where I can improve. Take classes, go to seminars, etc. Show that I am serious about teaching as a profession on my resume. Volunteer. Volunteer in your local literacy group. Get references from volunteer work.

  2. I would ignore the bad review. Pretend it doesn't exist. It's confidential information, anyway. When I was in the navy, "confidential" information was information was wasn't as sensitive as secret information, but we were going to make people we didn't want to have it work to get it anyway.

    Go ahead and keep asking your graduate adviser for letters of recommendation. Unless you got your degree before 1969, your adviser should have known he was sending you into a crowded field (since just about all academic fields have been crowded since 1969). He should therefore be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Don't worry about the reference being old: he was your graduate adviser, a special person in your career.

    Also, were you aware that you can remove unflattering reviews on the-site-that-will-be-named? Click on the link "report this rating" just below the review, and tell them "This is libelous." Usually the review will be removed within 24 hours. One can do this with a completely clear conscience since the-site-that-will-not-be-named is an ethical monstrosity in the first place. It was what gave birth to Rate Your Students, the precursor site to CM.

  3. It's hard to read the tea leaves here, since there are a lot of possible explanations for the set of facts you describe, and really no way to tell which one(s) is/are correct. I doubt the trustee can help much, either; in my experience (a family member was a trustee at my grad institution -- after I got in, mind you, but while I was a degree candidate, which I thought was a pretty awkward situation, to which I carefully did not call attention, even/especially when things weren't going so well), trustees are pretty clueless about what's actually going on at the school (remember, a lot of them are picked because they're potential donors, and all are potential supporters of or roadblocks to the administrators' pet projects, so they're the objects of a lot of PR spinning). They can probably get accurate information about formal policy; beyond that, they may well be *less* likely than a well-placed secretary/admin assistant to know what's actually going on. If you formed a friendly acquaintanceship with anyone of that description while you were at the school, and can find a way to run into her, preferably off-campus, you might get some more useful information.

    That said, I think you're wise to write this former employer off as a possible future employer. Among other things, it has an inadequate review system for adjuncts. Even if we assume the worst-case scenario (the class visit was a response to concerns about your teaching, of which you were not informed), you should have been visited before, as part of regular review process; someone should have reviewed your class materials (including the Bb site, if that's a regular part of the course-material setup at the institution) before you even began teaching and alerted you to anything that needed improvement; you should have been provided with a checklist of standards components and procedures (including such things as how long to retain materials on Bb); and you should have had the chance to engage in some sort of communication (written and/or oral) to/with those reviewing you.

    So what do you do doing forward? To find referees (as the current placement director at my own grad institution advised me), do some networking via professional societies and the like, in hope of cultivating new referees. Perhaps you could serve on a committee, or help organize a conference or similar event. This will make the most sense if you're aiming for a mixed teaching/research job, but it could work even if you mostly want to teach. I also like Trish's suggestion of pursing professional development and/or volunteer teaching to improve your teaching skills (we all can improve our skills). There's a need for ESL and/or adult literacy volunteers, and tutors/mentors for high school students who would be first-generation college students, pretty much everywhere. Such activities might also yield potential teaching referees (though of course they should not be engaged in only/primarily for that purpose; that wouldn't be fair to the people you're supposed to be helping).

    1. In interviews, I wouldn't respond to "what would you like us to know?" by bringing up the bad review, or the fact that you were let go from your last job (whatever that means; adjuncts are scheduled and then un-scheduled all the time, for various reasons; one of the few things about being an adjunct is that you can't really be said to be fired -- well, at least not if you were allowed to finish out the semester; being escorted off campus in handcuffs might count as "firing" -- just not-rehired, which means you don't really have to explain "losing" a job. It just happens, often for reasons which have nothing to do with the adjunct's performance). In response to "what would you like us to know?," say something positive about yourself, your skills, and the reasons you're a good fit for the job at hand.

      If you feel the need to address possible negative information/impressions, find out what those are first. That can be done by replying to the fairly-standard "do you have any questions for us?" with " do you have any concerns about my candidacy which I could address?" If they bring up your experience at and/or departure from your former employment, *then* you can address the situation (though I'd suggest being a bit vague, saying that they're seemed to be some differences of opinion about optimal teaching practices, but unfortunately there weren't clear review processes in place, so it's hard for you to tell exactly what they were, and then moving on quickly to say that you lost your regular full-time job at about the same time, and didn't really have time to follow up. Needless to say, non-academic employers are unlikely to care at all.)

      And yes, take a look at your reviews on TSTSNBN, get rid of what bad ones you can, and, when you find yourself connected via a public IP address that you haven't used before, add a positive-but-plausible one (of the sort that you think potential employers might see positively) yourself. This is known as "curating your digital reputation" (and the more it happens, the less potential employers can justify using the site as a reliable source of information -- although, to be fair, they probably do, at this point, have to check for red flags, since being unaware of them would be a hiring blunder).

      Most of all, if you need a real, living-wage/support-yourself type job, don't look to academia; look up all the "how to make the best of your grad degree in the non-academic market" advice, and follow that.

    2. * few ^good^ things about being an adjunct.

    3. Honestly, the CV and cover letter carry more weight than a reference letter. Do you have the necessary credentials? What have you done beyond getting the grad degree? Do you demonstrate a professional commitment to the profession? Are you articulate? Literate? These are what I look for when reviewing applications.

    4. And "there" for "they're," and assorted other typos.

  4. There is one thing I consider VERY important... do not speak negatively in any way about a former employer when interviewing with an prospective employer. If you speak negatively about your former employer, there is nothing to keep you from speaking negatively about the prospective employer should they hire you. Find a way to frame things that is constructive rather than destructive.

    I changed jobs due to conflicts and disagreements, but I tried a) not to burn bridges, and b) I gave them a positive reason saying I wanted to return to teaching (as my previous job was in research).

    And absolutely do not hesitate to contact an old instructor for a letter of reference. My grad school professor actually had me write my own letters and he just signed them. You could offer to do that, should it make for less work (inviting your professor to make any changes he/she desires). And you should cultivate professional affiliations... attend conferences, get on online forums, and create a presence for yourself (get on LinkedIn, post occasionally).

    I have worked both as an adjunct in my early days... so I understand the stresses of being an adjunct. If enrollments are down, and adjuncts are assigned to classes, it is common that adjuncts are "let go" and full-time profs get the classes. I agree also that if there is a problem, they should have given you fair warning and the opportunity to make adjustments. If someone comes to you with a complaint, instead of saying it's unfair, ask how you can make it better. My university has a department devote to helping instructors teach (they give workshops, have people to help you learn technologies, etc.). Take advantage of that - often certificates are provided when you complete a workshop (these workshops might only be a few hours and are free). Try to frame things positively... and come to CM if you need to gripe (that's what I've done).

    Best wishes for success.

  5. Academainic's first paragraph is key. The interviewer's presumption is that there is no workplace situation so devoid of redeeming value that you could have learned nothing from it. Prospective employers like to see that you can adjust well to challenging situations and minimize falling into unproductive patterns. You can always vent here and/or to close colleagues/friends.

    In the interview, if you are asked why you left your previous position, euphemisms can help. "I felt that I was very near to reaching the end of my growth potential in that organization, and that a change would open new doors." "I thought that your institution would provide me a better opportunity to directly apply my particular set of skills, in addition to it being an environment that fosters development of new competencies."

    Regarding working with others, "I grew to appreciate that getting thing done requires sensitivity to the interests of others while working towards shared goals. It also helps to be pragmatic about what needs to get done and what's merely nice to get done."

    Captain Subtext translates for you:
    My department head was an asshole who took credit for everything good I did while never supporting my advancement. When they weren't actively ignoring the vast literature on effective pedagogy, my colleagues undermined any initiative I undertook. I would have slashed all their tires but for the fact that their parking lot is to the east of our building and mine is in Outer West Jabumfuck, and because it would have forced them to take the bus, which I'm still a bit touchy about because they threw me under it so many times.

  6. Thanks to all who replied. Much food for thought. I actually had good student reviews from that last class, and my previous evaluation had been good. My very, very first evaluation in my first semester had not been good, but I changed some techniques and carried on, no thanks to the school, which gave no support and no opportunities for professional development. I have done my own research on education innovations. Discussion with the other adjunct suggested a reason for what might have happened, in that the dept chair might have been interested in staffing with fellow religionists, but I have no proof and will move on. :)