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The Adjunct Problem

I know that I’m not supposed to feel this way, but I don’t mind being an adjunct instructor. Really. I honestly don’t mind it at all. In fact, dare I say that I actually enjoy it? I realize, though, that this point of view is somewhat unusual.

Every time I tell someone I’m an adjunct, especially tenured or tenure-track faculty, I usually get a look of pity and a little somber “oh” in response. They will lament the number of hours I’m working, the amount of pay I am making, and my position (or lack thereof) in the department. The only good thing about being an adjunct, or so they tell me, is the lack of meetings adjuncts are required to attend.

Quite frankly, I have to disagree. Do I wish I had benefits through my employer? Sure. Do I want the stability of a full-time position? Of course. Do I wish I was being paid more to teach less? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t want that? But do I think I teach too much or get paid too little? Not really. Not if I’m being honest. Compared to my position as a teaching assistant, being an adjunct is pretty much living the dream.

Don’t get me wrong…I loved my time as a graduate teaching assistant. If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, that should be blatantly apparent. But even I can admit that it was hard. It was hard to design courses and teach them without any prior experience. It was hard to balance teaching two courses with taking three courses of my own. It was hard to prioritize between lesson planning, grading, studying, and completing homework while still trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. And it was hard to only make ten grand in a year.

So, to me, being an adjunct is a reprieve. Yes, I am teaching anywhere from 3 to 5 classes at a time, but I do not have any of my own coursework to compete with. Other than Mondays and Wednesdays when I teach several classes back-to-back, I do not have long grueling hours on campus that stretch well into the evening. I am not as strictly managed in terms of what I teach and how I teach it. I’m getting the experience of teaching multiple courses at multiple schools. And I’m going to end this year making nearly four times what I made in a year as a TA. It doesn’t hurt that two of my friends, my uncle, and my boyfriend have all since been hired at the school where I teach the majority of my courses. It doesn’t hurt one bit.

Do I have my sights set on securing a full-time position? Absolutely. But am I content as an adjunct in the meantime? You betcha.

That Adjunct Life: Year Two

I can’t believe an entire year has passed since I first began my journey as an adjunct professor.

No matter how many months pass or how many courses I teach, I still have not quite come to terms with the fact that I’m not a student anymore. I still feel like I’m a teaching assistant just playing at being a professor and waiting for my next term of courses to start. I still have not fully realized that I AM a professor and this IS what I do for a living now.

I have to admit that going to a job I love every single day is a fantastic feeling. My classrooms see both good days and bad ones, but the positive factors far outweigh the negative ones. I love my students and cherish the time I get to spend with them. I love trying new activities or assignments in the classroom and seeing how they turn out. I love improving as a teacher with every semester that goes by. While my wages are still rather modest comparatively speaking, I’m making more money than I’ve personally ever made in my life before. I’m feeling more secure in myself financially, professionally, and personally and am preparing to move out in a few months. Even though I’m certainly not without my complaints, life as an adjunct has treated me pretty damn well so far.

Do I still want the higher wages and higher stability that a full-time teaching position could offer? Absolutely. But am I content in the meantime doing what I’m doing now? You bet I am.

Year two, here we go.

Off to Work We Go

Week two of summer courses has officially come to an end, and I find myself conflicted by the prospect of actually working for the entire summer.

I have never truly worked all summer. Not to the point where I’ve had to turn down outings and vacations because “I have to work.” While I had “full-time” campus jobs during the summers in college and graduate school, I was always able to leave early for concerts or take off some time for trips. Not having that luxury this time around has left me feeling just a tad bitter. Seriously, I had to turn down an offer for a free week at the beach with my boyfriend because I can’t cancel that many class periods. Even if I could, I’d still have to teach online from the beach for a different school, and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone involved. So I’m just out of luck this summer.

Having said that, though, it feels good to be steadily productive throughout the summer months. My schedule is pretty generous, and I have three great groups of students. My fourth course (online) does not even begin for over another month. Money aside, I would probably be going crazy if I didn’t have anything to do right now. I worked every summer at my campus job in undergrad, had a library job and coursework during grad school, and treated finding a job as a job itself last summer. I haven’t had a true summer “off” since the months between junior and senior year of high school. I wouldn’t even know how to cope.

So, as I gaze out of my classroom window, frantically typing these words as my students complete a writing exercise, I find myself daydreaming of a world in which I have a full-time job, a world in which I get paid all summer without having to teach a single class, a world in which I can work on my article and conference proposals and be free to take any damn trip I would like.

Oh, what a wonderful world that would be. But, until then, it is off to work we go.

Be a Man

As swift as a coursing river. With all the force of a great typhoon. With all the strength of a raging fire. Mysterious as the dark side of the moon. According to Disney’s Mulan, these are the requirements for being a man.

Putting Donny Osmond and Ancient China aside for the moment, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a man in 2017. As a college instructor, I always find it important to take issues of sexism and gender representation to task in my sophomore composition courses. In past classes I’ve taught, my students and I have spent weeks talking about issues of gender in Harry Potter. More recently, however, one of my classes read and discussed an article regarding different types of masculinity displayed in How I Met Your Mother. Over and over again, pop culture proves to be an effective vehicle for getting students to think critically about masculinity, femininity, gender relations, and gender stereotypes. But the question remains…in our more open-minded, critically conscious, and self-aware society, how do we define what it means to be a man or a woman?

Over time, we have painted a portrait of the “ideal” man (and, no, unfortunately it does not include raging fires or the dark side of the moon). Men are expected to be strong physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are to be stoic in the face of trial, serving in direct contrast to their overly sensitive female counterparts. A “real” man is the protector, the breadwinner, the disciplinarian, and the head of the household. A man engages in many pursuits, namely watching sports, drinking beer, chasing women, and working with their hands. This is a pretty common perception of what it means to be a man, and film and television often reinforce this notion.

Ironically, none of the men in my life feat tidily into this definition of the “real” man. I know men of various ages that are much more nostalgic, sentimental, and emotionally driven than their female partners. I know plenty of men that take a backseat to their wives in terms of earning income, managing the household, and making family decisions. I know several men who would rather read a book of poetry or see a theatrical performance than attend a football game. I know strong men, weak men, shy men, bold men, committed men, flaky men, and every type of man in-between. So, clearly, our long-held notions of what it means to be a man no longer accurately represent the living, breathing men of 2017.

So what is a “real” man, then?

A real man is a man that respects women, children, the environment, his fellow men, and himself. A real man is unafraid to show emotions or admit moments of weakness. A real man views his partner as his equal and pays his equal dues when it comes to cooking, cleaning, parenting, managing the household, and supporting the family. And, of course, a real man never gives up on the things that are most important to him.

Humble Beginnings

As the semester begins to wind down to a close, I find myself reflecting on how I’ve gotten to where I am today.

As lame as it sounds, I honestly wouldn’t be an adjunct today if it wasn’t for Harry Potter. Without Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with teaching. I might not have majored in English. Heck, my entire life might have looked quite different if HP had never existed.

Allow me to explain.

I was first introduced to Harry Potter at the age on nine, when my third grade teacher began reading the first book to us. As we moved through Sorcerer’s Stone, I quickly became enamored with the magical world-building, the lovable characters, and the suspenseful storyline. Once we finished Sorcerer’s Stone, Ms. Masten moved onto Chamber of Secrets, and I was completely in love by the end of the year.

From that point, I started to read more and more. I read the third and fourth books, then I began looking for something else that could excite and inspire me as much as HP. While I found other books I loved over time, nothing could quite fill the Harry Potter-shaped space in my heart. Determined, I became an insatiable reader.

Around the same period of time, I began writing my first short stories. I figured that if I couldn’t find the books that were as good as HP, then I would write them. I quickly discovered that I loved writing just as much, if not more, than I loved reading. Every time a subsequent Harry Potter book would come out or I would encounter another excellent series, I just felt more and more motivated to write. By seventh grade, I was working on an elaborate book series and a handful of other written projects.

Needless to say, I have not become a best-selling author or anything like that (yet…), but my interest in writing fiction prompted me to major in English in my undergraduate studies. In college, Harry Potter became the quickest and easiest way to make new friends, especially with other English majors. We geeked out over our favorite moments, bonded at midnight movie releases, and took our Hogwarts houses very seriously. My friends’ house was even deemed the Hufflepuff Common Room, and they had a giant Hufflepuff crest fixated above their faux fireplace in their campus house.

By the end of college, I was still determined that writing fiction was what I wanted to do with my life. I applied to both MFA (fine arts programs in creative writing) and MA (regular English) graduate programs, and got accepted into one of each. After a lot of deliberation, I ended up deciding to stay at my undergrad institution and earn my MA so that I could apply to higher-caliber MFA programs later on. I was offered a teaching assistantship to fund my graduate studies, which meant that I would be teaching sophomore-level composition my second year in the program.

Sophomore-level composition at my university is theme-based, meaning that each individual instructor’s class is a different theme. I had a whole semester to design a course around whatever theme I liked, and I, of course, picked Harry Potter. The course was titled “From Hogwarts to the Humanities” and had units on identity, gender studies, religious studies, and philosophy, all connected to HP. When I finally got to teach the class in my second year, it was even more amazing than I had expected. I loved going to class every single day and reading all the great insights my students were bringing to the HP series in their writing and research. On the last day of the semester, one of the students asked if we could take a “family” photo. It was in that final class period, as we shed tears over a nostalgic HP tribute video and the end of our time together, that I knew I wanted to teach composition for the rest of my life. It probably goes without saying that, when I finished my Master’s degree, my graduation party was also HP themed!

So, while the concept may sound strange, Harry Potter truly changed my life. It impacted my hobbies, my friendships, and my career path. Without The Boy Who Lived, my life would look very, very different. Thank you, J.K. Rowling!

This post originally appeared on my instructor blog, Composition is Fun! You can view the original post here.

Adequate Inadequacies

Honestly, I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself this week.

I’m overworked and over-stressed, a result of a perfect storm of professional obligations, student assignments, and a healthy dose of procrastination. My hands have been cramping from all the handwriting and typing I’ve been doing, and, no matter how many hours I work, I just don’t seem to make a dent in the pile at all. Once I cross one thing off the list, two more just seem to pop right up.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve felt this way since I finished graduate school. Even though last semester I was teaching two more courses than I am currently, I did not have any “coursework” of my own. Signing up for a professional development course requiring 6+ weeks of graduate-level work was probably not the smartest move I could’ve made, especially since I found out shortly after that I would also have 3 weeks of extensive training for a new online teaching position.

Needless to say, after I accidentally attached a blank document to a training assignment and was not familiar with the course management site enough to fix (or prevent) the issue two hours before the final deadline, I had a full-blown academia-induced breakdown. I’ve been about a year overdue for one, so it felt sickeningly familiar in some way.

This little breakdown has been the crowning glory in my feelings of inadequacy this week. I’m a perfectionist with a fear of failure, so every little mistake I make seems detrimental. I’m feeling like an inadequate instructor because I can’t keep up with my grading because of my professional obligations, and I’m falling behind in my professional obligations because of grading. I’m feeling inadequate in my field because I don’t have a Ph.D. and, at this rate, don’t know when I’ll get one. I’m feeling inadequate because my boyfriend from an upper-middle class family finally realized how run-down and cluttered my home is compared to his. I’m feeling inadequate because I can’t look the way I want to or dress the way I want to or do all of the things that I want to do.

I’m feeling inadequate because I’m 25 years old and still waiting for my life to really start. But, I guess this is a rather adequate inadequacy to have.

 

When “You and Me” Becomes “We”

For the vast majority of my young adult life, I have been a bit of loner. An introvert at heart, I do not have a huge group of friends, nor do I see my friends as much as I could.  I never really dated in college and hadn’t had a proper boyfriend since high school. I’ve always been pretty independent and satisfied spending time alone.

So, when I first started dating my current boyfriend in my last semester of graduate school, the idea of not being single was somewhat hard to get used to.  I didn’t immediately think about inviting him to family get-togethers or group outings with my friends. I was thrown off when friends and family members asked where he was or what he was up to when I showed up to an event solo. I forged ahead with my own plans for a Halloween costume because the idea of a couple’s costume never even crossed my mind. I didn’t view my boyfriend and myself as a collective unit; I viewed him as a complement to myself.

I’m not sure when the shift occurred, when I stopped thinking of my relationship as “him and me” and started thinking about it as “us.” I suppose it was around Thanksgiving, when we went to each others’ family holiday celebrations. I had never spent a holiday with a significant other before, and it felt weird to be attending each event as a single entity. Although the experience was foreign to me, it was also pleasant. After that point, I resolved myself to the fact that we were truly a collective unit. 

Now, the idea of an existence completely apart from him is frightening to me. I now think of things in terms of us as a couple, rather than myself individually. We talk openly about trips we’d like to take, plans for our second year of dating, and ideas for activities we would like to do this fall. We hint at the possibilities of someday living together, getting married, and having children. And, not only have I opened myself up to the idea of doing a couple’s costume for Halloween, but we’ve actually already discussed potential costumes. 

This transition into the “we” versus “you and me” mentality is scary for an independent and reluctant introvert like myself, but it is also really exciting. It’s the start of a new chapter in my life, and I can’t see where the road takes us.

Academic Incest

One concern I often face as a young professional is the fear of committing academic incest.

When I was in college and applying to graduate programs, I received mixed feedback regarding my decision to apply to the M.A. program at my undergraduate institution. Some thought that staying at my home institution would be the best decision I could ever make, while others warned that earning my B.A. and M.A. from the same school would reflect poorly upon me later on.

Since I was offered full funding, I did indeed stay at my home institution for graduate school. This experience, as I’ve mentioned before, completely altered my career path and changed my life in so many ways, so I certainly wouldn’t change that decision. But, when I approached graduation, I was faced with the same conflicting feedback again. On one hand, friends and family were lamenting the fact that I couldn’t continue on at the same school to earn my PhD. On the other hand, some of my mentors celebrated the fact that I would finally be moving on, either to further my graduate studies or to start a career.

Of course, that didn’t quite happen either. While I am gaining teaching experience in other schools and contexts, I am still at my home institution as an adjunct instructor. I am now hired to teach the undergraduate student body I belonged to just three years ago. And, if I get things my way, I have no intention of leaving. If a full-time position at my university became available, I would apply as soon as possible. And I firmly believe I would be quite content staying in that role for the foreseeable future.

Several members of our department completed their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees at the university. In fact, many of the full-time lecturers were teaching assistants in the same program I was in. So many of us were so content with our experiences as students that we wanted to return to our roots and stay put. And that’s one of the things I love the most about my department and my university.

So why is there such a stigma against academic “incest” anyway? After all, who knows the campus and the students at a university better than those that have been students there themselves? Doesn’t this show commitment to the university’s values and a loyalty to the department that bred us? I’m not sure I can buy into the idea that this is a negative thing.

What are your thoughts on so-called academic “incest”? Share them below!

 

Mile Markers

Today, two of my friends announced their engagement. Of course, this announcement was not out-of-the-blue; the pair have dated for several years and have lived together for a couple of those years. But, still, this engagement is a milestone they (and everyone around them) have been waiting for. This time last month, my friends’ lives were business as usual, but now they have been whisked away by a whirlwind of elation and wedding planning.

The excitement and happiness I feel for the two of them makes me daydream about my own potential engagement someday. After all, that’s what I’m expected to do. It seems that once an adult relationship reaches a certain point, the countdown to engagement automatically begins, whether the couple acknowledges this or not. Once a relationship crosses this threshold, it ceases to be a relationship for the mere sake of being a relationship. Instead, it becomes a countdown to the engagement milestone. Eventually, those around us will start expecting it, just like I expected my friends’ engagement. At this point, there’s really only two options for how this thing can go: either he’ll “put a ring on it” or the relationship will come crashing down in fiery chaos.

So is this what adulthood really is? Just a series of milestones we live to check off of our lists?

We spend our high school years preparing to get into college. We go to college to enter into a job and begin our careers upon graduation. We land an interview and then land the job. We move out on our own and begin to establish ourselves. We find a partner, move in with them, get engaged to them, and marry them. Shortly after, we have children. This is what society expects out of us before the age of thirty. Our young adult years are a ripe time for important milestones, and our success is measured by which ones we reach, how quickly we reach them, and in what order they occur.

While I certainly want all of these things for myself, I don’t want to sit around just waiting for the next milestone to occur. I want to live my life fully in the in-between. I want to keep pushing myself to do better and be better and enjoy every moment. That way, the milestones won’t be my only crowning achievements but extra-sweet moments in an already sweet life.