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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

I Guess This is Growing Up

In two weeks, I will turn twenty-five.

Back in high school and even in undergrad, I thought I would have my whole life figured out by now. I thought I would be settled in a career, married, and maybe even a mother by this point. I truly believed I would be a full-blown adult by now. The closer I actually got to the age of twenty-five, the more I realized that the vision in my head was a flat-out joke.

Instead of living some picturesque version of adulthood, I’m mostly flailing about, trying to figure out my life while holding my shit together. In fact, with each new phase of my life that I enter, the more chaos I seem to encounter. My mid-twenties are definitely the most tumultuous years I’ve experienced so far. Especially without the structure of school, life is incredibly freeform right now. While some people might find that to be exciting and freeing, I find it to be utterly obnoxious and, at times, utterly terrifying.

Over time, the pieces of my life puzzle have slowly started to fall in place. While I’m still not in a full-time job, I at least have a clear-cut vision of what I want to do with my life, and I’m working my ass off in multiple part-time positions to make that vision a reality. I’m still living at home, but I have concrete goals for moving out and am actively trying to become more independent. I’m over a year into the best relationship I’ve ever been in and have started to seriously consider the fact that this might be the man I’m going to marry. The players are all lined up; now the wait is on to see if they all fall into position to play the game.

I’m so close to having the life I want for myself. In some ways, this terrifies me more than the periods in which I have felt totally lost and directionless. I’m so afraid I’m going to screw something up that will prevent this rather feasible dream into becoming an activity. I’m afraid that I will have to reinvent myself yet again and set off on a totally new path, a path that, for once, I don’t want to venture down.

My friends seem to be in similar states of disarray. Everyone is in the middle of career changes and identity crises. It’s kinda like we’ve been living these semi-artificial lives and now we’re all in flux, transforming into the people we’re really supposed to be. It is a crazy, scary, exciting, fun, awful, weird period of life to go through.

Well, I guess this is growing up.

The Great Escape

I have lived in one place my entire life. It only seems natural, then, that one of my main goals since high school has been to get out of my hometown.

It started with dreams to go away for college. I really wanted to go to a school about an hour away from home, but my family simply couldn’t afford it. As it turns out, I didn’t even apply to any schools outside of the two universities in my hometown. There was no point in getting my hopes up.

So, college was not my chance to break away. In undergrad, I started to look at grad school as my opportunity instead. In addition to the graduate program at my  home institution, I applied to schools in other parts of my state, as well as schools in other states. My mother was a little concerned about me potentially moving several hours away, but I was confident I could handle it.

The possibility became tangible when I was accepted into a MFA program in northern Ohio. While I liked the idea of establishing my independence and studying creative writing, this particular program was definitely not the program at the top of my list. Suddenly, three hours from home felt really far for a program I wasn’t completely in love with, especially with two less-than-healthy parents. Surprising myself, I turned down the offer of admission, even though I thought the decision meant that I would have to take a year off from school.

Of course, as it turned out, choosing not to attend that university for graduate school turned out to be one of the most important decisions of my life.

A few days after I turned down the offer, I was given full funding to attend my home institution’s MA program. During my time in the program, I fell in love with teaching, fell in love with rhet./comp., and met the man I would eventually fall in love with. The decision not to move away from home changed the course of my career, my love life, and my identity. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if I had moved away right after undergrad to pursue an MFA.

So, with my Master’s degree earned at home, I set my sights on moving out for my PhD. This would be a move out of necessity, not choice; the closest PhD programs in my chosen field are both about an hour away. Getting into any program I applied to would be a guaranteed ticket out of my hometown. But, then, life happened. I got so caught up in trying to teach, grade, attend courses, do homework, meet department requirements, and attend conferences that I didn’t have any time, energy, or sanity left to apply to PhD programs in my last year of graduate school. After a significant mental breakdown, I resolved myself to taking a year off to work and focus on preparing my materials.

That did not go quite as planned either. I taught five classes last semester and barely made enough money to recover from a summer of no employment and the new financial responsibilities I had recently taken on. I couldn’t really afford the large amounts of money needed to take the GRE, send my transcripts, and cover application fees. With five classes, I also had so much grading and course prep to do that I hardly had enough time leftover to work on application materials and still maintain my meager social life. I finally resolved myself to the fact that I needed to put off applying for another year.

Now, I’m about a year away from the next application deadlines, and, for the first time in my young adult life, I don’t know if I really want to leave. It all appears in my mind so vividly. I can see myself taking a full-time job and getting a little apartment in an artsy neighborhood. I can see myself creating my own little life here with my boyfriend.

And, for the first time, I can see what a good little life it would be.

 

All’s Well That Ends Well (or Something)

The end of the calendar year is officially upon us.

Of course, anytime that one year comes to an end and another one is set to begin, we as humans naturally resort to nostalgic reflection, introspection, and prediction. We think about what went wrong in the last twelve months, what went right, and what we can do to make the next year an even better one (or, at bare minimum, a slightly less disastrous one). Every new year is chance to start again.

So, how does 2016 rate?

I think most Americans (and people in plenty of other countries) can agree that 2016 has been far from the brightest star in our collective sky. With notable celebrity deaths, global travesties, and a shit-show of a presidential election, I wouldn’t be surprised to find many people breathing a quiet sigh of relief when the clock strikes midnight and 2o16 finally slips away for good.

Putting all that aside, though, 2016 hasn’t been a bad year for me personally. In fact, 2016 has been packed full of firsts and milestones, both good and less-than-good. In the past twelve months I:

  • saw my first published academic/scholarly article in print
  • started dating my coworker/classmate-turned-friend
  • got into my first car accident
  • bought a new-to-me car for the first time
  • turned 24
  • went to Seattle with two of my TA friends
  • presented at an academic conference in Seattle with those TA friends
  • presented at writing center conference
  • graduated with my M.A. in English with a concentration in writing
  • had an awesome Harry Potter themed graduation party
  • got hired as an online writing tutor
  • went on vacation with a boyfriend for the first time to a place I had never visited
  • did all kinds of boyfriend-related things for the first time
  • celebrated 6 months with that coworker/classmate-turned-friend-turned-boyfriend
  • witnessed more than one major parent-related health crisis (again)
  • got hired to continue teaching at my home institution and to teach at the local community college
  • taught a total of seven college composition courses
  • had a final-round interview for my dream job
  • celebrated the holidays with friends, family, and my boyfriend’s family

In total, 2016 has been nothing short of a hectic, stressful, rewarding, surprising year full of twists and turns. While not everything that occurred this year was ideal, I don’t really regret anything; good things always seem to come out of the negative ones. In a lot of ways, this year wasn’t so much about being perfect…it was about setting the stage for where I want to go and who I want to be. I’ve accomplished so much professionally since I graduated in May, and my love life is more fulfilling than it has ever been before. I have good friends, supportive family, and a job I love. I’m not quite where I want and need to be, but I’m definitely headed in the right direction. I’m on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s what I think 2017 will bring.

So, friends, let’s say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the possibilities that 2017 holds. It’s going to be a great year.

 

The Peer Review Problem

As a composition instructor, peer review is one of my favorite things. In fact, it might be my favorite thing about teaching composition. I love hearing students engage in dynamic conversations about writing. I love watching them realize that they do know how to recognize good writing and that each individual has a unique way of approaching the assignment. I love how peer review truly allows students to become active agents in their own learning.

Ironically,  I hated peer review as a student. I didn’t like the written feedback method, and reviewers never really said anything. So, in my first year as a college composition instructor,  I took it upon myself to experiment with different styles of peer review in an effort to find a method that students would benefit from and, maybe, actually enjoy.

Amazingly, I was successful in this endeavor. I found not one, but multiple, methods of peer review that my sophomore students liked better than the standard written response. As I would walk around the room, I would hear genuine and in-depth conversations about the papers, writing in general, and the students as writers. I continually received strong essays from students who took peer review seriously. It was fantastic.

Now that I’m in my second year of teaching entirely on my own, I have tried these same methods with my first year students at multiple institutions. With one group of students, peer review is going fantastically. In the other classes, though? Not so much. They try the methods, sure. They follow the directions, yes. But they’re breezing through the workshops as quickly as possible. For the most part, these students are not having the genuine conversations I am trying to encourage them to have.

It’s all so frustrating because I don’t think they understand how important this is and how beneficial it can be when given the proper amount of time and effort. I don’t think they care about helping their classmates become better writers. I don’t think some of them even care about becoming better writers themselves. But I will keep trying. I will keep experimenting with new styles and gaining student feedback. I will conquer the peer review problem.

Fellow composition instructors, do you have particular methods of peer review that you like to use? Leave them as a comment! I’d be happy to share any of my methods as well!