Why Adjuncts Struggle to Break Free

I’ve been part-time teaching at two schools this semester and have been trying to figure out why my grad school professors warned us not be adjuncts. Well, today as I started grading a stack of papers that has recently dwindled from 110 to 90 papers, I now understand my professors’ advice.

In order to live comfortably as an adjunct you must teach at least four to five sections. These sections usually include at least 20 students which means come paper time you’ve got at least 100 papers to grade and comment on. While you’re grading papers and teaching 5 sections, full-time professors are teaching 3 sections, not worrying about money, and working on publications. That’s right, they are writing and focused on their careers, while the only writing you’re doing is the writing on student papers.

Recently a girlfriend of mine, who also has her MFA and was an adjunct for a while and is now a full-time instructor, called me. We spoke at length about focusing on our writing versus our students. She and I are tired of being super teacher. Being super teachers is not going to get us a tenure track jobs. This has always been my goal, and has recently become hers as well.

So, what have we decided to do to brighten our futures? The fifth of every month we will be emailing each other our writing. I’m working on perfecting my novel by adding some sections and lengthening the sections I have, and she wants to pump out some short stories. We attempted to establish some kind of consequence for not doing the writing, but decided that we weren’t afraid of each other so we established a reward instead. When we send each other our work, we will also send each other a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble.

Our first exchange will occur on the 5th of November, and I’m eager to have a deadline and someone I trust to give me feedback. I’m hoping that this exchange will enable us both to see our work published and lead us towards being tenured professors.

In the end, what it all boils down to is worrying about yourself. In this competitive society, it is necessary to focus on you. It sounds narcissistic and selfish but I don’t really care, I’m in it to win it and if you’re an adjunct who is a super teacher, you should consider focusing on yourself even if it is brief. We must stop feeling guilty if we don’t our students their papers back immediately. Those things can wait–your career can’t.

Are there any super-teachers out there that agree with me? What about those of you who don’t? Why not focus on my own writing versus the writing of my students? Am I horrible person for thinking this way?

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2 comments

  1. It doesn’t make you a horrible person, but I’ve had teachers who don’t care that much and it’s annoying. Then again, most students don’t care that much, so why bust your butt for them?

    Maybe a fair compromise is just worry about yourself, but to be super-teacher to the few students who actually take an interest, and maybe help them after class.

    But then what happens when you get tenure?

    1. I sure hope I get a tenure track job so I can tell you. My thesis chair is the perfect example of a balance. She was such a great teacher who put care in her lectures and how she ran the classroom, but she also spent her time getting her writing done. I also had professors in grad school who were very much focused on themselves and were mediocre teachers at best. My undergraduate experience was similar. I had a great blend of professors who really were great instructors but who also got their own work done. I do like your suggestion about being super teacher the ones that care.

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