Why do adjuncts teach for minimal pay?

Community College Dean wrote today about the bright side of economic free fall. It is, he posits, that the idea of obtaining a job by merit will be destroyed. Clearly people now are not significantly less good than the same group was two years ago.

It is an interesting discussion and one that may have a legitimate point, though one outside my sphere of discussion, but he said something else that I can address-and that I want to address.

I can’t help but wonder to what degree the otherwise-puzzling persistence of long-term adjuncts who just keep on plugging, looking for the big break, is driven by a felt need to redeem themselves in this value system. It’s not economically rational, but there must be something, or there wouldn’t be so many people doing it.

There are plenty of long-term adjuncts who want to do what they are doing, even for little money. They love their job and though it is not economically rewarding, it is a job they love.

Clearly long-term adjuncts can afford to do what they are doing, either because there is another worker in the family or because they have settled into poverty.

The adjuncts who have settled into poverty probably need help with career counseling. But where would they get it? They do not receive this as part of their work for the colleges and university and they can’t afford it. Many of them, especially those who came out of poverty, have already bucked their culture to get an advanced degree.

If they are working multiple colleges, as I am, they can teach a full or more than full-time load and make more money than they could in a minimum wage job. And many of them may have no idea what else they could do. They worked to get where they are and don’t know how to get anywhere else. I have not heard of that from adjuncts I work with, but I don’t talk to a lot of adjuncts either. I have heard it from full-time faculty who want to get away from the institution they work for and don’t know how…

But there are many long-term adjuncts, including me, who are doing what they want to be doing. They don’t want to have another job and they are able to take the low pay for one reason or another.

Now, most of us would prefer to do the work we are doing now for $15,000 a year for $50,000 a year. I don’t think anyone would turn that down. But we want to do what we are doing and we are willing to take $15,000 a year to do it.

Just last month I was told to get a high school teaching job, instead of trying for college. But it’s not the prestige factor that keeps me from doing that. It’s the fact that I would have to do a lot more grunt work, have twice as many people to talk to when someone gets upset, have much less freedom in my classroom, and have much closer restrictions on how and what I teach. I chose higher education because I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to be a professional and not a drone.

I am not saying that high school teachers are drones. I know many brilliant, hard-working, motivated high school teachers. What I am saying is that I am a drone when I teach high school. (I know. I’ve done it before.)

Right now I am still in a position where I can do what I want for minimal pay. So I do that.

If that changes, then I will do something else. But I have a bit of an advantage there. I teach business writing and I know how to write a resume. I have an idea of the job system outside of academics. It would be easier for me to move out of academia than for others, perhaps. But my guess is that most long-term adjuncts are still adjuncting because they want to teach more than they want to make money.

I know I do.

Should I encourage or discourage?

I received an email from a person who is interested in teaching college English. She put that into a search engine and found my blog.

I’m a newspaper editor considering a new career as a community college teacher. I was hoping you might have a few minutes in the next week or so for me to pick your brain about how to go about getting into the profession.
I’m still doing my research, but I think I’d like to teach developmental English or English for Academic Purposes, English as a Second Language and possibly freshman composition.

I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and am trying to figure out what kind of master’s degree would qualify me to teach these subjects. I’m also interested in learning what kind of teaching experience I can get with my current experience and education. Part of my job involves teaching and mentoring young journalists, but I’ve never taught in a classroom.

Here is what I told her:

squiggly-pencilYou can teach developmental English at some community colleges with a bachelor’s. You can also usually teach ESL with a bachelor’s.

Freshman composition is the most common course in English at most community colleges.  You need a master’s to teach freshman comp.

A master’s in English, with an emphasis in any field will be sufficient to teach as a part-timer at the community college.

As a newspaper editor, you could probably teach journalism at the community college part-time, or developmental part-time. That would let you know whether you will enjoy it before you actually get into the financial and time commitment of a master’s.

While many community college teachers only have their master’s, there is a surfeit of teachers in English and to get a full-time position you would need to be willing to move and have experience teaching in the community college.

With a PhD I was recently told I might be better off teaching high school. At least the jobs are more plentiful. I’ve done that, though, and I know I like teaching college much better. It might be something for you to consider though.

Does anyone have pearls of wisdom to share?

Adjunct life

 studying_bookscomputerI am an adjunct.  I have wanted to be an adjunct for years, but now I want to find a full-time job.  That is neither here nor there for this post, though.  It’s just a contextual statement.

I got an email yesterday that one of my classes didn’t make.  I actually expected that, but I don’t like it when it happens.  It was a bad class to not make because it is one in which I make 2x the salary as at my other schools.  However, it wasn’t a terrible class to lose because it isn’t through the school from which I purchase my insurance, thus my insurance is still okay.

It’s a pain to lose a good class, though.  I have three preps next semester.  Two of them are brand new classes at SLAC.  And they are preps for one class each.  The other class would have given me two classes for a single prep, which I would prefer, obviously.

I am still teaching five courses in the spring because I thought one of the courses wouldn’t make (the time slot was bad), so I contracted with CC2 to teach a night course.  I didn’t want to drive over there multiple times a week, so I am just going once.  

CC2 is not in the safest neighborhood, but my students live there and I’ve never had anything bad happen to me.   In the spring a woman was killed in a carjacking gone bad across the street while I was meeting my night class, but I didn’t know about it till the next day.  I’m just as glad about that.

adjunct-bagNot everyone is in the position I am in.  I can teach more classes than I want to.  Some adjuncts can’t get enough work, so I am grateful for that.

So I am trying to make a living, get my foot in the door, carry a full work load, get conference presentations and publications, and live down the fact that I am an adjunct.  I am doing all but the last.  I’m not too sure how to do the last, but when I figure it out, I will let you know.

Adjuncts v. full-timers

Steve Street, a longtime adjunct, responded to the recent Jaeger and Eagan studies on part-timers and education.

Full-time faculty members are paid almost 75 percent more but are only 20 percent more effective than part-timers. If a 2-percent drop in students’ going on to four-year institutions results from a 10-percent increase in the use of part-time instructors, then replacing all the full-time faculty members with adjuncts would result in only a 20-percent drop in students’ continuing on. And there would still be a huge pay differential to come out of the hides of part-time faculty members.

He then goes on to talk about another study, by Umbach, which said that because adjuncts don’t work outside of class, full-timers who are paying attention to that don’t work outside of class either.

The researchers behind those studies qualify their results more than those who report and act on them. Jaeger called for more qualitative studies; Umbach set his numbers in the context of how academic institutions treat part-time faculty members, to use his qualitative term, “like crap.”

Now, I am also a longtime adjunct. I’ve been an adjunct for seven years. A full-time adjunct for a year now. My students have my home phone number. I have office hours. I’m as available for them as I can be. I’ve answered a phone call and an email today (Saturday, after finals and grades) from two students who called and emailed today. I think I have been just as accessible as any full-timer.

teacher-desk1I teach just as many demanding courses as the full-timers. I have just as many (or more) graded essays as the full-time composition teachers. I have a PhD. But I’m not in a tenure track position.

I’d be interested in some studies that show how adjuncts have saved the colleges’ behinds. 1/4 of CC1 is full-time faculty. If CC1 had to pay triple their faculty salaries, I wonder if they could survive. I doubt it.

Is there a problem with adjuncts?

Mark Bauerlein of Minding the Campus says, “[T]here is little evidence that full-time faculty are better teachers than part-timers are.”

But others disagree.

Benjamin (2002) has suggested ways that overreliance on part-time faculty may undermine successful student integration. Not only did he find part-time faculty to be relatively unavailable, but he also found that many used less challenging instructional methods. Plausibly, then, reliance on part-time faculty may hinder both social and academic integration and may also be understood as a factor that connects the integration model to the Bean and Metzner barrier or “student attrition” model.

New Directions for Higher Education published a dedicated volume documenting concerns that poor institutional assimilation by part-time faculty adversely affects student learning. The effects included reduced instructional quality, lack of curricular cohesion, and weak advising (Benjamin, 2003a, 2003b; Cross & Goldenberg, 2003; Elman, 2003; Schuster, 2003; Thompson, 2003; Townsend, 2003). While successfully raising questions about the instructional effectiveness of part-time faculty, the quantitative evidence in that volume did not address the central question of whether heavy reliance on part-time faculty significantly alters student outcomes. This issue was directly assessed in two quantitative studies examining student persistence and graduation. Harrington and Schibik (2001) studied one large midwestern university and found that, when freshmen took a higher percentage of their courses with part-time faculty, they were less likely to persist towards their degree. Ehrenberg and Zhang (2004) tested a large sample of institutions for which there were multiple observations dating back to 1986. They concluded that for each 10% increase in the percentage of faculty employed part-time at four-year institutions, graduation rates decrease by 2.65%. [bolding mine, ed.]

That is a major point, I think. If taking more part-time teacher decreases your likelihood of graduation, wouldn’t a student want to take full-timers?

stud-illus-bigI will say, though, that when I have on-campus hours as a part-timer, I still don’t see many students. And the ones I do see are from two categories, the hardest-working and the troublesome. The hardest-working students are coming to see me with early versions of their papers and asking how they can be improved. They are doing their best to do their best and I love to help them. The troublesome ones are those who probably won’t make it through class or their degree, or will only get it because they are such pains when thwarted that no one is willing to turn them down. These are the ones that it actually hurts to help. I worked with one of these for sixteen hours (minimum) to thirty-two hours (maximum) personally outside of class. When she made a B in the class, she ripped me up on Rate My Professor. She’s the kind of student that makes me not want to have office hours, even when I can.

and

Student evaluations of full- and part-time faculty differ little (Hellman, 1998). Yet differences have been found in grading patterns, with part-time faculty grades being significantly higher (McArthur, 1999).

I know that this latter has been an issue for me as a part-timer. I wonder if I am grading too hard, if grading easier would improve student retention. (I already have glowing evaluations.)

So, as an adjunct, am I helping or hurting my students?

I have a PhD, which is an issue discussed by Benjamin. I have office hours (sometimes). I am available. (I give students my home phone number.) I use multiple techniques for teaching.

I guess I think that, if there is a problem with adjuncts, it isn’t me. Of course, all of us probably think that.

“Education in the Balance” and my response

Perhaps the most surprising finding is the relatively high percentage of the upper- division undergraduate courses taught by non- tenure- track faculty members across all three institutional types. English departments do sometimes hire journalists, artists, actors, technical writers, and members of the legal profession for upper-division undergraduate courses in literature, composition, film, and writing. But the numbers here suggest that there are not enough tenured or tenure- track faculty members to cover upper-division under-graduate courses. Or, perhaps, for tenured or tenure- track faculty members to maintain their involvement in the lower division, department chairs have had to turn to non- tenure- track faculty members to teach courses for majors—even a very small percentage of courses for graduate students. (8) 

 

So said MLA’s “Education in the Balance,” their 2007 report.

Obviously at my CCs there are no upper-division courses. The sophomore courses are 99% taught by the tenure-track instructors. The 1% is the May-term class which doesn’t count toward the 10.5 month contract and is taught by whatever willing adjunct can be found, which in this case was me.

At SLAC, I know the upper-division grammar class is taught by an adjunct, but I think that is the only course that is done that way. And they have enough faculty to teach it; no one wants to though. That teacher has a PhD and is a grammar specialist, though, so her work is not a sloughing off of a bad job to a poor adjunct.

MLA seemed to be surprised that full-time faculty in baccalaureate institutes taught just as many first-year courses as they taught upper-division classes. But there are a lot more first-year courses than upper-division classes and in most BA schools, there are still plenty of faculty teaching and not focusing on research.

These figures show that, of all the faculty members hired by departments, no more than one in seven was hired to a tenure-track position. (9)

This is not surprising at all. For every tenure-track position, most colleges have to hire two part-timers to cover the same amount of classes. But they can afford to hire six for the same amount of money. So they get the equivalent of three full-timers for less pay. Of course they are going to hire part-timers as long as the emphasis is on finances.

The committee is drawn, on the one hand, to the argument that the concept of a non- tenure-track faculty is an illegitimate exercise of institutional authority; it is, and it ought to be, contested by whatever means available. (15)

I do not understand why hiring non-tenure-track faculty is illegitimate. My SLAC has three-year renewable contracts. Those have been stable for decades, although they are changing now as the president moves the college towards more research-intense work. Even when the letting go of traditional faculty who have not been publishing happens, as I expect it will in a few years, most of these teachers know it is coming and can do something about it now.

Neither of my SLACs, including the one where I taught as ft, are mostly staffed by part-timers. 90% or more of their English departments are full-time. Obviously one has no tenure-track, but even so most of its faculty has been there for years, with the exception of two new hires last year who replaced people who left four years ago when the college was in a downturn. (They retired.) The other has one position in the department that is full-time, non-tenure track. It is staffed by an MFA who does not intend to get a PhD. This is exactly the position she wants.

At a time when the percentage of undergraduate courses taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty members is in decline, it seems imperative that we set standards for the appropriate levels and areas of participation by tenure-line and full-time non-tenure-track faculty members in the undergraduate curriculum. We understand that the first obligation of the tenured and tenure- track faculty is to majors and graduate students. (17)

This goes back to a discussion I started in Adjunct Crunching as a response to Erin O’Connor’s “Adjunct Crunch.

Erin is arguing in her post that freshman composition should be the main focus of teachers in the English departments. Obviously MLA disagrees with her.

What do I think? I think that most English departments are supported by their freshman composition classes and they should give support back to those classes. In a CC most of the tenure-track teachers are teaching two freshman and three sophomore classes every semester. Some teach three freshman and two sophomores. But that means that in a year they teach 7 or 8 freshman comp classes. An adjunct, who can now teach 7 classes a year, will teach all 7 as freshman comp. And at CC1 there are three adjuncts for every full-timer. At CC2 it is a 1 to 1 ratio. There are as many full-timers as there are part-timers. At SLAC, there is a ratio in favor of full-timers, but not by much. This means that at CC1 far more of the freshman classes are taught by adjuncts than are taught by full-timers.

Why adjunct is a dirty word

Adjunct is a dirty word.

caricature-teacherIf you didn’t know it was, you haven’t known any adjuncts personally. It is amazing what people will say about adjuncts, even to their faces.

But here’s why:

The average adjunct is not as qualified as the average new full-timer. (I’m not addressing the folks hired back in the 60’s, when the market was entirely different.) And I’m not just talking about them receiving less institutional support, though that’s certainly true. Full-timers are recruited nationally, and vetted by search committees, deans, and vice presidents. It’s not unusual to get hundreds of applications for a single position, even at the cc level. When we hire someone to the tenure track, we’ve chosen the best of hundreds. Adjuncts are hired locally, ensuring a far smaller pool. They’re often chosen based on their availability for a given time slot. Yes, some of them are excellent instructors. Yes, sometimes we luck out and find really good people whose life circumstances steer them to us. (That was me, back in the mid-90’s.) But the idea that, on average, the best of hundreds aren’t any better than the best who live within a thirty minute drive and are available on Tuesdays at 12:30 just doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Absolutely the chances are good that the best of hundreds will be better than the best who live within an hour and a half drive. (I’m in Houston, after all.) That does not mean, as Community College Dean makes clear, that some aren’t good. Some are good. Some are excellent.

But we are regularly treated as if we are “the one living within driving distance who agrees to go to X campus.”

Even when we are not. Even when we have a PhD and more teaching experience than the full-timers. Even when our evaluations are glowing and our classes fill up immediately upon opening.

It reminds me of how doctors often treat their patients. Many doctors routinely treat their patients as if they are idiots and do not recognize their own symptoms. This happens even when the patients are bright, well-educated, and self-aware. The doctors do it because they have the expectation that the patient won’t be intelligent.

Maybe the academy has that same expectation. They expect the adjuncts to be poor teachers, place holders, cogs in a giant wheel that are interchangeable… And they get those things, to the detriment of the students. Maybe the colleges should give more and expect more from their adjuncts.

If students perform well when confronted with high expectations, shouldn’t teachers work the same way? We’re just older folks (usually). If adjuncts are expected to be underqualified, high graders without significant content in their courses, then that’s who they will become.

I work at three colleges with very different community cultures.

At one college everyone is introduced as Dr. if they have received one and by their first name as not. This is even when you are giving your name to colleagues. At this college, my PhD counters my adjunct status, as does the fact that relatively few of the faculty are adjuncts.

At one college the twain do not meet. Adjuncts (60 or so) have a four computers/tables office in a building, while the full-timers have individual offices in other buildings. Both the adjuncts and the full-timers have a start-of-school meeting, but the adjuncts’ is at night and the full-timers’ is in the day. Even adjuncts who could attend the full-timers’ meetings don’t because it means coming back to campus without pay. And it just continues that way. They don’t interact. This is CC1, which has offered adjunct certification.

At my third college, the adjuncts are invited (as far as I can tell) to everything the full-timers are. The adjuncts have offices in the same area as the full-timers, though they share an office and the ft have their own. (That’s okay, though, since few of the adjuncts are in the office area at the same time.) People talk to the adjuncts, instead of ignoring them in the halls like at CC1 and CC2. It’s a much more comfortable school to be an adjunct at.

Why am I working at three colleges?

caricature-edwardian-teacherI have been away from teaching college for fifteen years, teaching my children. Now I am trying to get back into teaching. I’ve been working at the local college for a while, teaching a Saturday morning or a Thursday night class. But this year my youngest is attending the local college for dual credit, so I am teaching part-time at several places trying to beef up my experience and my skills. I know that colleges look more at presentations and publications and I have been working on those. I have eight presentations this school year and two publications.

So I am working at several places, getting my feet in doors, hopefully getting to know people, and, next time they hire, I want them to be looking at me first. But when people think of adjuncts as the sweatshop workers, as at one of the colleges I applied for a full-time position, where they never hire their own adjuncts for full-time positions, maybe more adjuncting was not a good choice.

Does effective = good? And the tale of a great teacher.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year about what makes a good teacher. I’ve surfed the net for hours to find out what other people say about this.

Does effective = excellent? Not necessarily. I think that all excellent teachers are effective, but not all effective teachers are excellent.

Thinking back about my favorite, most inspiring, teachers, I have found that they are the ones who not only have classroom management skills, know the subject area, and can explain well, but those who have an enthusiasm for the subject and an enthusiasm for their students.

For example, I wrote a research paper for my ninth grade history teacher. I spent a lot of time on it. I did my best. It was much more work than was required for the assignment and really was several research papers in one binder. There were some problems with it. But I had worked hard on it.

Mr. Klinger gave me an A+ and included an op-ed piece from the NYTimes with my research paper when he returned it. This op-ed was written by a man whose wife was a teacher. She read him a paper because she thought it was so far above the other papers she had received over her years of teaching. But she was giving the student an A- because it wasn’t perfect. “Isn’t this the best paper you have ever received?” her husband asked. “Yes,” she answered. “Then why not give it an A+?” “Because it is not perfect.” The writer said that he thought the best paper she had ever received deserved an A+ even if it wasn’t perfect. And so, in one simple reading, Mr. Klinger made clear that my paper wasn’t perfect, but it was one of the best he had ever received.

I still have the paper and the op-ed piece. It has encouraged me many times over the years.

Mr. Klinger was an excellent teacher.

Joe responded:

Very good description of effective versus excellent. Of course, I agree with the statement “all effective teachers may not be excellent but all excellent teacher are effective.” You can be effective and teach intolerant, dishonesty, misinformation, etc.

When I wrote my essay I took “teacher” in an academic setting, but some of my most “excellent” teachers were not accredited as such (especially opening the mind after basic academic training): two examples: 1) One day, twenty-five years ago, I got a call from B. Rapaport in Waco: “You are the Joe Kagle who wrote the Sunday Op-Ed page today. I liked it. We must talk. Call my secretary and we will have lunch.” For that moment on, B and I had lunch once a month. He learned about the creative process from me and I learned about business, politics and being Jewish in America from him. He was an excellent teacher. 2) My roommate in college also came from Pittsburgh. I did not know him before then (although we went to the same high school and was in one math class together). Harry was one of those guys who could read a book and remember pages word for word. He became a lawyer. I have a visual memory, walking through a gallery and can tell you strokes on a painting, years later. I became an artist, teacher and museum director. After college, we stayed in contact, no matter where in the world we were. Many times our conversations started with “Who is the third best writer in the world that few have heard about?” or “Who is the third best American artist in the 20th century?” It was never our answers but the conversations on the process of answering that livened the talks in motion. In both instances, (with B and Harry) we were excellent teachers for each other becaise we came to the table of friendship with gifts to share.


And I, of course, came back with an equally developed post:

Absolutely not all good teachers are academic. I learn best from stories (or “case studies”) and I enjoyed reading about your two friends. I have to admit that I don’t know three American 20th century artists, though I know several excellent 20th century artists. I’m intrigued by that question.

As an English teacher, I think I ought to have an answer to “who is the third best writer that few people know about,” but I am going to have to think about that one.

For my literature courses, one of the questions I think about is “What texts are often referred to among educated people that the students haven’t read?” That question brought Frankenstein, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Gulliver’s Travels into several of my syllabi. I collect popular culture or news references to literary works and file them so that I can discuss relevance with my students.

The ability to ask thoughtful questions is part of what makes life interesting.

I have found that sometimes my students can be the ones who are asking those questions. My first year teaching developmental writing, I learned more about the whys of grammar than I had ever even thought of before. This last semester I had a group of highly inquisitive and motivated students. They also kept me learning.

I wonder if I could do more to elicit those kinds of questions from my students… Hmm. Maybe in Brit Lit I could ask them what they would have wanted to learn about a section that I didn’t cover. Since it is a required course I am not sure that asking them what they want to know would elicit any useful information. I’ll have to think about that.

Joe answered:

One thing that I have used (because it worked for me) is: If you change the venue you sometimes may create the inherent questions that follow. Let me give you an example: I was in charge of an art festival at Washington and Jefferson College in PA and I asked Kimon Frair to attend and give a lecture on The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis. He came, was marvelous, started some questions in my mind, we ate and drank together, and he left and returned to Greece. Shortly after that I was asked to teach on World Campus Afloat and we anchored in Athens harbor. Kimon took my wife and I around to all the sites, danced and drank with us in the tavernas, and told stories of Greek myths and modern adventures by Kazantzakis and others. It was life changing. It opened questions for me that I am still pondering. When I returned to the States, I asked myself: “Why can’t we change the venue for students in their own background? We are all foreigners in our own neighborhood.” So I asked the students to read Coleridge’s Kubla Khan for romanticism, view the works of artists after the French revolution, visit the Buddhist church in Houston, visit a neighborhood that they had never visited around here, and then write an essay about Romanticism (“about feeling” that they found in one work of art).” Of course, some took the exercise to heart and some just went through the motions (having wonderful excuses for not extending their reach).

In the same class last year I brought in a Buddhist monk (a friend from Japan who was originally from Germany) to talk to my class about dedication and how one got into the monestary to study Buddhist. It was, again, for some, a life changing experience and for at least 2/3 just “something else” they had to endure to get credits. We teach for the many but we really only reach a few deeply. Still, changing the venue from the genre to the “new” does help some (in part all) to relate and ask questions.

This is a rumination from my adjunct certification course.

Change can be scary.

This is a conversation from my adjunct certification online course. That was the tiltle of the discussion thread. I titled my comment “teaching innovations.” (A title was required.)

My comment:
I like teaching new things in new ways. Tweaking small changes is easy because it won’t necessarily make a lot of difference if it doesn’t work. Teaching a new course is fun because it is novel. But it can be hard to change at the intermediate level, to throw out a whole unit in order to try a new one that might not work.

Joe, who was on all the time, replied:
It is interesting. I agree with you totally about teaching something new, but at this stage of my career, the new happens in my own work of writing and painting outside the classroom. I share this with my students by giving them my websites and it is an aspect of what the material is that happens in class (as an added element to the core material) but still, it is outside, not part of the curriculum (at least, not directly). OK, given that: talking about working with or creating “something new” in the classroom (or my studio), I have always believed: “First you shoot the arrows and then paint the targets (told to me by a friend in graduate school and has become a mantra that I use when approaching the “unknown”). Also there is a Chinese saying, “A journey of a thousand miles start with the first step.” Lastly, another of my rules in my own painting is: “If I don’t know where I am going, any road will get me there.” It makes a work of art like opening a present at Christmas. Just some thoughts!

And then Joe replied to himself:
It is always curious to respond to yourself as well as someone else’s thoughts (yours, Dr. Davis). So after working out at the Y, on the bike and the machines (I do some of my best thinking while my body is someplace else in exercise), I thought about my saying that I do not do many “new” things in my Art Appreciation course (my passion to teach because if I can turn the students on, it works for all the other professors that they will have after me). First, it is not true. I tweak little things all the time. Second, I should take a hard look at the section of the course where my passion is not as high: teaching linear art history from cave art to Surrealism (30,000 BCE to Picasso and Miro). I find that as “something that must be done and that the student definitely needs” therefore I do not bring the same enthusiasm to those four weeks. Oh, they get the material and thank me at the end for presenting it but it is not a section that I love to teach. I would not change the beginning or end of the course, just this middle. There has to be a way to inject what I believe about art history (it is not “back then” but “right now”) into how I teach it. That might be my project for this Adjunct Certification session that we are taking. It is, at least, a challenge. Thank you for nudging me out of my own routine. I have made small changes but not a major change here for several years.

My response to Joe’s comments:
You said

There has to be a way to inject what I believe about art history (it is not “back then” but “right now”) into how I teach it.

What if you teach art history and show how we are still doing it?
Cave paintings = graffiti or large wall murals

… I don’t know enough to keep going, but I am fairly sure that you could do an approach like that, thus giving them a linear view of art history while still having the work apply to what we are doing now.

Stuart got in on the conversation:
I have a question. Do you fnd that your teaching is drastically different from one class to another even when it is the same subject or course you are teaching?

I find many times, even by accident, that I told one class a anecdote or story that I did not tell my other classes.

I answered Stuart:
I do find that I tell different stories in classes. I think I respond to different questions with stories. So some students will hear one story while another class will hear a different one.

I worry about that sometimes. I wonder if one class is hearing the same story three times and one story not at all.

I also find that sometimes my explanations become streamlined as I see what helped the students and what didn’t. So the first class is an hour long, the second is 55 minutes, and the third gets out ten minutes early.

Most of the time, though, if I am teaching the same course the same semester I try very hard to do the same things with each class. (Unless something clearly didn’t work.)

Suzy has the same thing happen:
I’e had the same thing happen to me, Dr. Davis! I sometimes call my second class a “Cliffs Notes” version of the first. It was worse when I taught four 1301 classes back to back. I lost track of what I said to which class. Luckily, I’ve changed my schedule, so it happens less frequently now.

Mike said:
I’ve read the string of messages initiated by your comments, but I return to your original message to reply. I often think back of my first classes taught at Kingwood (Fall 2006) and feel sorry for them.

Joe came up with one of his perfect quotes:
Several years ago, I found a quote from the Dalai Lama which has helped me in many ways (in the classroom and outside in my own creative work): “If you do not think that small things make a difference, spend a night in a room with a mosquito.”

Suzette had the last word:
Okay, I can’t help but laugh. I have spent a night or two fighting for hours with an elusive mosquito. But seriously, small things do make a difference. You may not see the results immediately, but eventually you do see it. Thanks for the quote. I’ve added it to my journal. : )

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.