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?

What if…?

What if tenure were outlawed tomorrow?  What would happen?

Some teachers who haven’t been teaching would get laid off.  

  • This would be a good thing.
  • It would also encourage others to keep doing their jobs.
  • A sweeping round of layoffs would be demoralizing.

Some good teachers who have high seniority, and the attendant price tag, would get laid off.

  • We would expect that they would be hired by someone else, but perhaps not.  How do you prove you are the high seniority gifted teacher rather than the poor teacher who hasn’t been working?
  • This would be negative for the teacher, financially and emotionally.
  • It would be bad for the students because some good teachers would be gone.

lightbulb-smSome bad teachers would not be laid off.

  • They have social clout or are donor’s family members.
  • It would appear to those outside that the teacher is good, else they would be laid off.
  • The status of the college would go down with those in the know, because they would know a bad teacher was being kept on when all the excuses were gone.

Some good teachers would not be laid off, despite high seniority.

  • Their administrations would recognize their worth.  Thus they would be feel more valued than before.
  • A meritocracy would begin to be formed, since only good teachers would be kept on at higher wages.

So, what do you think?  What else would happen if tenure were abolished tomorrow?  I would really like to know.

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.


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.


Erin O’Connor at Critical Mass wrote a post on tenure.

One reason people want tenure is for academic freedom. If you have tenure, the theory goes, you can oppose the administration politically at no cost to yourself.

Let’s think about that for a minute.

If you are opposing the administration, are you really going to wait until you are tenured? No, you’re not. And as a result, you won’t get tenure.

If you are opposing someone at no risk to yourself, isn’t it possible that you will oppose them out of vengefulness, pettiness, or simply desiring to be annoying? Yes, it is.

So tenure = academic freedom is a “get out of jail free card” for teachers who just want to make the administration miserable. No, everyone doesn’t do it, but some of them do. You probably know one or two.

Then there’s the idea that tenure rewards hard work. As my grampa used to say, “The reward for work well done is more work to do.” If a teacher is teaching (and researching, at a research institute), then they will be rewarded. No administration in the world wants to have to pay to go look for candidates to replace good people they already have. And they’re not going to do that, most of the time. Yes, sometimes someone gets in a squabble and maybe it isn’t the teacher’s fault, but most of the time this won’t happen.

My high school had tenure. (Yes, you read that right.) And there was a Spanish teacher who didn’t teach anything in her classes. She had tenure, so she didn’t have to. Now, there were forty teachers in my high school and only one wasn’t doing her job. But the 39 who were doing their job, would have done it without tenure. And the one who wasn’t, could have been let go without tenure.

On the other hand, if there’s no tenure, then full-time faculty may be increasingly replaced with part-timers, or, more likely, as new teachers are needed, only part-time faculty will be hired.

How can we get around that?

adjunct-bag2First, schools who are hiring lots of adjuncts don’t have high standing, in their communities or in academia. And, believe it or not, all schools want to have a high standing. So why are they hiring mostly adjuncts? It’s financial considerations. And tenure or not isn’t going to change the financial considerations for most of those schools.

Next, what about fixed term contracts? My SLAC has three-year fixed term contracts. Most of the teachers there have been there for the last twenty years on those contracts. They haven’t needed tenure to have job security, because they and the school fit each other.

Now, however, there are differences coming, and some of them may not have notice the changes in the wind. The SLAC is moving towards being a research institute. So without publications and presentations, a person won’t get hired there. I would not be surprised if, eventually, the school starts letting go people who don’t have the publications they want. But that won’t be soon. Remember what I said earlier? It’s way easier to keep what you have than to get something new. So even with the winds of change blowing, most of those teachers will keep their jobs for multiple more contract terms without needing to improve their publication/presentation rate. And those who want to stay on and who people want to keep, they’ll get the idea (either themselves or through a nudge) that they need to get to work.

Therefore, I am for fixed year contracts over tenure. I don’t think tenure does much for a school and I don’t think it really does a lot for the teachers.

Of course, I’m speaking from the outside, as someone without tenure, without a full-time position, so some may discount my opinion. But I think it makes sense. And I think we are moving towards that model in academia.

“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.

Links of interest:

A discussion of why value-added growth models aren’t quite useful.

The story of an adjunct who is fired for publicly identifying plagiarists. I think it is a bit odd that the failing grades were put on hold. I can understand the termination.

High school social skills matter a lot. “Lleras found that such social skills as conscientiousness, cooperativeness, and motivation were as important as test scores for success in the workplace.”

And one that I’ve been finding new blogs to follow on Education at has lots of other topics aggregated, but I like the education one the most.

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.


Nationally, adjuncts teach 30-50% of all credit courses. At community colleges, adjuncts compose about 60% of all faculty (Gappa and Leslie, 1993).

But “The Effects of Salary” says:

Adjunct faculty make up approximately sixty-five percent of all faculty teaching at the college level…

At CC1, the adjuncts are 75% of the faculty. This is with 53,000 students (Student Served Report) in the system.


Within a single school adjunct pay can vary based on “market realities” of the hiring pool
from Adjunct Pay Discrepancies Justified.

Why adjuncts are paid so little: They are an interchangeable commodity. Any one of them will do.

Analysis of Adjunct Instructor Pay from Colorado Community Colleges is very clear. It’s easy to read and a quick read, too.

At my CCs I make half of what I make (per class) from the SLAC.

Why people adjunct:

One doesn’t do it for the money, but for one’s vita! I did it for two years and it added great stuff to my vita, which did help me get a real job.

from “Adjunct Salary–How Much?”


A poll at Adjunct Nation says that the vast majority of adjuncts spend 1 hour or more for each class meeting in preparation. (297 to 75 [for 30 minutes] or 32 [for 15 minutes].)


Schools allow different numbers of courses per adjunct. For a long time CC1 only allowed five courses per regular school year. Now an adjunct can teach six.

CC2 has an adjunct choice that gives an adjunct five classes per semester (full-time load) and requires office hours. This is not a lead in to full-time work but IS full-time work for part-time pay. It’s a wonder they’ve ever hired anyone with this option.

Summer classes

Faculty around here all teach first summer session but don’t want the miniterm (three weeks in May) because it doesn’t count toward their 10.5 contract. So, if you are up for teaching a miniterm, and your schedule allows for it, you often can. Otherwise, you’re looking at Summer II, a long break at the beginning of the summer and a week at the end.


Texas now allows adjuncts to purchase insurance if they have taught for a year and continue teaching at least four courses a year. The cost, in my system, is about $750 a month for me and two minor children. If I teach five classes a year, I take home nothing.

Continuing education

Some expectations:

Document the completion of three (3) hours per semester of professional development activities related to the discipline area and student learning

Attend such meetings and workshops as may be necessary to obtain or renew certification or essential licensure requirements

from Expectations of Adjunct Faculty Members at Yavapai CC in Arizona.

Jaschik’s article discusses a continuing ed system in which adjuncts who complete 60 hours of professional development get a pay jump of $33 per credit hour for three years. (That’s almost double my pay at CC1 or CC2.) For each additional 60 hours of professional development within that three years, their pay jump is continued for another three. AND their title changes from adjunct to “associate faculty.”

I’d like to do that. How can I get in on it?