Why I Am an Adjunct: Take 3

Isaac Sweeney and Eliana Osborn have both written about their experiences as an adjunct. I, too, am an adjunct faculty members, but for different reasons from them, so here’s another perspective.

My first professional identity was as a high-school English teacher. I was a naive, 22-year-old from a fairly small, rural town, teaching in a much more heterogeneous community in Cincinnati, Ohio. Perhaps things have changed (although I don’t think so), but the policy at the time was to put the least-experienced teachers with the most educationally disenfranchised and/or seemingly disengaged students. You know, the first-year teachers get the classes that no one else wants to teach.

Thanks in large part to incredible mentors, and the lessons taught intentionally (and unintentionally) by my students, I survived my first year, and went on to thrive at the school. Ultimately, however, I decided that a career in K-12 public education was not a good fit for me, and I moved into higher education and student affairs.

But I have to tell you, there’s nothing like the high you get from teaching a good class. When it’s going well, you can feel the energy in the room. I teach night classes now, and it takes me hours to wind down after a particularly engaging session. I might be a bit sleep-deprived the next day, but the adrenaline from that great class carries me through my day.

Since I made the move to student affairs, I have sought opportunities to teach part-time whenever possible, and that has kept me in touch not only with students, but also with faculty members. I can see how institutional systems help or hinder learning, and sometimes I can make changes, via my my administrative role, that make real differences in the classroom. It also keeps me in touch with the realities of the classroom, for both students and faculty members. My adjunct role complements my “day job” quite nicely.

However, regardless of our circumstances or reasons for teaching, adjuncts deserve better pay; an office fit for grading, computing, and seeing students; and better support, collegiality, and acknowledgment from other faculty members and administrators. I’m reminded of the time, during my first year of teaching, when my most challenging student invited me to his junior varsity basketball game. There weren’t many people at the game, and no one who came specifically to watch him play. I congratulated him on a good game afterwards, and he was a different student from then on. A little recognition and respect goes a long way, for students and teachers.

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