Adjunct Crunching

English professors, for example, should never ever ever get to glide through on 2-2 loads while grad students and adjuncts carry the tougher, and ultimately more important, college writing courses that most lit professors won’t touch with a ten-foot pole. The single most important thing an English professor can do is teach English–that is far more important than sitting around massaging a slim obscure monograph for years at a time, or filling up one’s days dutifully doing committee-based make-work, or racing around the coffee-date/networking/conference junket.

argues Erin O’Connor.

Let me state here that I am an English teacher and have taught at six colleges. In only one of those have grad students done the bulk of the heavy lifting and in only one did adjuncts do most of the work, so perhaps I am coming at this from a significantly different viewpoint than Erin. Erin went to school in and taught in major research universities. Only one of my colleges was that.

At all of my colleges except Purdue, the full-time faculty teach full loads, four or five classes a semester. They are the ones doing the heavy lifting; though some of the heavy lifting is also done by adjuncts (or in the case of CC1, mostly done by adjuncts). I was a grad student at three of those schools and an adjunct at the other three. I also taught full-time at one of them. So I do know whereof I am speaking.

I was a grad student who taught. The first two years there wasn’t much mentoring. I was thrown to the classes as if I were a seasoned teacher. (I was, in fact, a seasoned teacher, since I taught high school before this.) It wasn’t until I was teaching at Purdue that I received mentoring. And I received it from teachers who were busy teaching and grading two graduate classes a semester, as well as mentoring me through the finer points of the teaching practices at that university. When they weren’t doing that, they were not sitting around publishing unused monographs or drinking coffee. –They were writing composition/rhetoric books and hitting the bars. 🙂

Grad students and adjuncts should not be stuck doing all the important teaching in a college. But what is the important teaching?

Why should English teachers, per se, be the ones held most accountable for teaching? Why is freshman composition so essential?

In English students come to us from twelve years in the public and private schools, often unable to write a coherent paragraph, much less a coherent paper. Is it then the job of the freshman English teacher (whoever that may be) to remedy twelve years of lack? If it is, then we have set the system up incorrectly. If the most important job is for students to be able to write, then they ought to be able to write before they get to college.

And if it isn’t, then why should college professors, as opposed to everyone else, be teaching them?

An earlier post discusses whether or not freshman are just money machines for universities. If they are, then the universities won’t really care who teaches them.

And if they aren’t, then why does all the emphasis go towards research and graduate programs?

If the MOST IMPORTANT THING is freshman English, then the classes should be small (12-15), the teachers should be well paid, and the class load should be reasonable. If the MOST IMPORTANT THING is freshman English, then the college ought to act like it.

But it’s not. Erin is dissatisfied because she thinks it ought to be and that is the problem. She may be right, but the colleges don’t think so. At least not the big universities, like Purdue and UPenn, like Harvard and MIT.

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