Wednesday, April 4, 2012

College Adjuncts: the Lowest Point on the Food Chain

Wyman's English 101 Class at Monmouth College
After being at the top of the food chain for so long while teaching English at Fremd for 27 years, it was startling to drop to the bottom  of the chain as an adjunct instructor.  And after four years I'm still adjusting to the change.

My first thought back in 2007 was that I would walk out of Fremd, tell the world I was available to teach, and then begin a new career.  The schools would be lined up to hire me, and I would end up, possibly at a small, rural school or a Catholic high school in eastern Iowa, teaching English, advising the school newspaper, and announcing the home basketball games.

Boy, was I wrong.

After doing some subbing at Galesburg High School for Evan Massey, the head girls basketball coach and social studies chair at GHS, I got hired in August 2008 to teach at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.  Talk about being detatched from the other teachers!  No one was very friendly.  The full-timers hardly spoke to the adjuncts, and the dean was also in charge of the library so that's where most of her time was focused.

I went from being on the top of the heap (at Fremd) to being an after thought.  The students at Waubonsee were great though.  They were from all over the Fox Valley, and since I had been living around there most of my life, I could relate to kids from Batavia, Geneva, Oswego, Yorkville, Aurora, and even Sheridan, the most southern portion of the Waubonsee district.  The students knew people that I knew so we hit it off immediately.  The bad part was that I would start each semester with 22 students and end up with only 14, but that is the nature of the beast at a community college.

I must say that Monmouth College was better than Waubonsee as far as collegiality goes.  The English Department at Monmouth was tight and very welcoming.  I didn't get to teach anything other than composition, but at least I got evaluated in the classroom--the only college where that has happened!  And Monmouth College had tons of English majors.  I even met a student from Sandwich who had been in my daughter's class in 5th grade.  Now THAT made me feel old.

But I ran into problems when I taught in the Communications Department at Monmouth College during the second semester of 2011.  One of the professors had it in for me (I've never figured out why), and so I was run out of town by her.  I'd probably still be at Monmouth if I was just teaching English.

I did get to teach a literature class at Dominican University, but that was highly unusual for an adjunct.  And yes, the members of the English department are friendly at Dominican, and I need to be careful not to say anything negative about them or about Dominican because I'm still teaching there.  One of my buddies from Fremd, Henry Sampson, got me in at Dominican in 2010.

Henry had started teaching a composition class there in the fall of 2009, and a professor had to take an emergency leave so Chad Rohman, the English chair, asked Henry to teach a British Literature class in addition to his comp. class.  This all occurred in October of 2009 so Henry had to come into the Brit. Lit. class midstream.

The professor who had gone on leave also had an Irish Literature class he was scheduled to teach during the second semester. Chad wanted Henry to teach the class.  But Henry is a big gun in the Poetry Slam community so he prepares for the National Poetry Slam during the first part of the year. Henry told Chad he was out and couldn't teach the class, but he knew someone who could.

Enter me!  Henry told Chad that I knew a lot about Irish Literature.  I knew a little Joyce, a little Eavan Boland, a little Seamus Heaney, and very little O'Casey, Synge, and Yeats.  But Chad hired me, and off I went.  I was hired just before Christmas in 2009 so I was able to read all the material during the month-long college break in December and early January before classes began.

Now I must say that my semester teaching Irish Literature at Dominican was my best semester teaching since I retired from Fremd.  The kids were older, and very involved in the readings.  We went downtown to the Goodman Theatre and saw two plays that we had already read in class.  And we even got to attend a question and answer session with Brian Dennehey, who starred in "Hughie" and "Krapp's Last Tape" at the Goodman.

I'm half Irish, have done lots of work on Irish genealogy of my mother's family, and even traveled to Ireland in 1998 and stayed a week in County Kilkenny where my ancestors came from.  So Ireland is in my blood.  It made me who I am, and teaching Irish Lit. was a joy!

However, I'm back teaching composition at Dominican now (after teaching at Monmouth last year), and even though I love Dominican (my mom went there when it was Rosary College), the college is much like Monmouth in that it has admitted students who were not being admitted five years ago before the economy tanked.  One of the professors told me last week that Dominican is tuition driven--there is no endowment.  The kids with 17 ACT scores who couldn't get in in 2007 are being admitted now.

Teaching writing to these kids is tough.  I have kids who are fantastic writers and other kids who are barely literate.  At Fremd with tracking, you never saw that.  Remedials were remedials and Advanced Placement students were in class with other Advanced Placement students.  The honors classes on a college campus are strictly for the professors.  Adjuncts need not apply.

Henry and I laughed about being adjuncts last week while we were having a beer.  When he got evaluated at Dominican in 2009, the professor who evaluated him said, "You even know the names of all the students!"  Many of the professors who teach are so detatched from their students that they never learn their names or anything about them, whereas high school teachers are used to knowing everything about their students.

I once heard two of my colleagues (I won't say which college) whispering in the corner of the office about how one of the professors could not cut it teaching composition.  Here's a guy with a Ph.d, and he can't teach comp?  Come on!

The pay is rotten too!  $1,875 to teach a class at Waubonsee, $2,500 per class at Dominican, and $4,000 ( for a four hr. class) at Monmouth. 

And some of these adjuncts travel around from one Chicago-area college to another.  I knew a math adjunct at Waubonsee who went to Kendall College, and then to Triton after he left Waubonsee.  I thought I was unique when I traveled from Waubonsee to Dominican during the spring semester of 2010, but I was just one of the "wandering adjuncts," who never get to know one another very well.

So let's raise our glass today to the adjunct instructors--under paid, under appreciated, over worked, and very frustrated.  This drink is for you, adjuncts.  Be safe on the road, and don't spend that $1,875 all in one place.

1 comment:

  1. As one who is considering post-retirement options in the not too distant future, this is illuminating. Thanks.