Sunday, November 10, 2013

The (Humanities) Adjunct Conundrum: It's My Career

The Perks of Adjuncting

That's right. I am doomed to have no job security whatsoever while my job is to teach just like any other college faculty member. But, not as like any other faculty member in other ways--this job I must do only "part-time" or, as I would state more accurately, even less so. And, then I must work this less-than-part-time job at multiple campuses simultaneously, which actually adds up to an average full-time teaching schedule without the pay or benefits at any one of them. I can't and won't pretend I am alone in this. I am only describing what I know so many other humanities graduate degrees are also experiencing because, most likely, they are not yet taken seriously in the professional world (despite other positions or part-time work experience along the way) and have been passed up for someone with equal qualifications but more years and experience in the position or its equal that would have provided a much more stable and secure full-time position (or, not to mention, part-time).

So, that leaves these degrees with the experience they do have--and, consequently, leads them to the one type of job they can get. All that slave-labor as TAs in grad school pays off in one way on CVs where it fails on business resumes since it proves to college department chairs or deans that the grad behind the teaching experience section can survive the 101 classroom gig and help to fill their colleges' ever growing number of sections for a small fee--one that will undoubtedly be accepted as one of their only options because if they don't take it, someone else will (not much to negotiate, there...). And why do they do it? Perhaps there truly are no other options available (or granted to them) for financial income of any sort. Perhaps they hope if they gain more teaching experience it will eventually lead to something full-time, or, more likely, hope that if they teach long enough somewhere, it will have to become permanent sooner or later--even if it's later. Perhaps it's simply pride: if they don't keep up with positions at a level more prestigious professionally than working retail, food service, or nannying, they will never achieve the kinds of jobs they worked and hoped so hard for in grad school, and their degrees will be for naught. But then again, perhaps that slave labor in grad school simply convinced them that the classroom was where they best belonged, and to pass up the opportunity to be there, no matter in what form or for what pay, became unthinkable.

While I may have arrived at this last conclusion myself (though not without a mix of several of the others), I also can't and won't pretend I wasn't grasping at any other professional- (or even para-) level full-time (or continued part-time) position I could get just to add any kind of stability to my material life possible. In some ways, I still hope that I will come to a point where one of these positions is available to me--or at least that adjuncts will gain some semblance of the slightly longer stability (or simply a smoother hiring process and better foresight for future appointments) that at least two campuses I teach at are in continued negotiations and speculations over. Yet, for all of the uncertainty, I have come to several more realizations.

For one thing, I love teaching, and I love what I teach. Teaching is the only kind of job I've had that I can't say I dread going to do every day. Even on bad days, once I get into the classroom, I'm "on" and don't have room or time for anything else because my students never deserve it--no matter how much some classes try to push irritable buttons. I have a habit of teaching Yolanda O'Bannon's short essay "Living What You Do Every Day" in my developmental writing courses because it reminds me that "you have to live what you do every day of your life, so better to do what you love." Beyond that, I probably love it because I find it rewarding. It is one of the more directly rewarding and fulfilling types of jobs, and I guess that keeps me reminded of why I like doing it. I also enjoy the fact (yes, I believe it is a fact) that teaching is the best teacher, and find that it improves so many of my own skills each time I get to try it.

Now, I've basically convinced myself that those reasons mentioned are the only ones I really need to be happy and satisfied with my probable life as a career-adjunct, but the common downsides have still attempted to thwart complacency in my status without wanting to reach for more. I have to admit, I often attempted to convince not only myself, but also others to whom I felt the need to justify my precarious position, by glibly listing all of the "perks" I actually experience as an adjunct that I couldn't in a higher status. Among these are included the seeming lack of authority over me; the random, but scheduled hours, which actually allow me to be home in between most classes and let me get other household tasks done bit by bit--not to forget the relatively few hours I am not able to schedule my own time unlike full-time 8-5s; and all of the meetings and committees I am not expected to be a part of, so I can simply come to campus, teach, and leave!

Of course, what I don't mention are the opposite sides of each of these. With no real attachment anywhere, I fall into the "adjunct void" in which I truly don't seem to belong anywhere or get to know any colleagues. Nor do I feel I have any real opportunities to try to make a difference in any of the institutions I work at as I might if there were a higher level of commitment to me as an employee of that institution or from me to it. The actual hours I teach classes may be far less than the standard eight-hour day, but every moment in between (even if I'm juggling laundry and dishes at the same time just because I may be at home) must be dedicated to grading and lesson-planning if I am to keep up or have any evenings or weekends free. On a larger scale, if I don't manage to get about seven classes a year, I won't make enough for my budget, and I never have the certainty that I'll be able to get them. Moreover, with only continuing "teaching" for my CV/resume experience list, it seems unlikely I could move into any more stable administrative or other professional type of full-time position that I might enjoy if teaching full-time (in title) never becomes possible.

Yet, despite everything, my biggest realization of all is how humbling this adjunct conundrum has been for me in teaching me reliance and trust not on myself, but on God. I have always been one to make things happen one way or another, and I've generally learned I can't rely on anyone else to make them happen. I like things stable and predictable. I have always felt that if something didn't work out the way I thought it should, I wasn't doing something well enough or that I went wrong somewhere. I would forget who was really in control. Having come into this direction in life working from semester to semester as an adjunct has obliterated all of my naive notions about my life. I have now begun to rethink everything it means for me.

In such an unstable, unreliable position with no worldly job security, after submitting my CV, or my name pleading for any opportunities, I can only pray and rely on God to provide. If He chooses that it would be best if I only get two classes to teach one semester instead of three, I trust (although sometimes that's still a work in progress) that he will see me through somehow, by either providing another opportunity or by making up for it in another semester. If nothing else, my lack of control and uncertainty keeps His prayer line on my speed-dial--at work, getting ready, on walks, driving between classes... I know I've been self-reliant for far too long (or so I believed it was I making everything happen as it should), and God made sure to show me that mistake. But, at the same time, he has graciously blessed me with an (unreliable, yet fairly continued) job I enjoy so much, and I praise him for such a rare opportunity. I also believe he has used this situation to show me that worldly wealth is truly only earthly and temporal. Through adjuncting, I've been earning, semester by semester, just enough to feel perfectly content. Due to these things, I remember much more often what is truly important, and I try more and more to direct my thoughts heavenward. I guess adjuncting has been a lesson in being satisfied with what I have and humble about where I am at, without having to constantly strive for more--which would still only be earthly "perks" anyway.

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