For the student who shouted at me:*
I heard you. Loud and clear.
I heard you say that I should take more responsibility for how I run my class. That I should be held accountable for the behavior of my students. I heard you say that you pay for these classes. That you deserve more. That you deserve more than your peers’ tendency to skip the reading and come unprepared. That you need to be accommodated as an individual. Yes. I heard you.
I heard the disrespect behind your gritted teeth. I saw the contempt in your eyes.
I heard the veiled threat when you exclaimed that our conversation would have an “impact on my career.” I heard you.
So let’s get a few things straight.
I am an adjunct. Colorado Community College adjuncts make an average of $1800 per class for the entire semester. This includes teaching, monthly departmental meetings, checking several email accounts daily and responding to student concerns and questions in a timely manner. This includes planning lectures and activities and thoughtful curriculum building. This includes managing the online classroom, dropboxes and discussion boards. This includes grading and creating assignments and poring over assigned texts.
This also includes having difficult conversations with students outside of class about why late work is not acceptable, why they are failing or getting a B and not an A, or why their writing is simply not up to a college standard.
Let me break it down for you, sir.
- I teach 5 classes. I am physically in the classroom 15 hours per week, for 15 weeks, for a total of 225 hours. I arrive at least fifteen minutes early to class to answer questions and get set up. Oh, and the office hours twice a week – so let’s make it 255 hours.
- I have approximately 23 students in each class. I assign 5 essays in each section. Each essay requires 20 minutes of attention for reading and feedback. This equates, roughly, to 190 hours of grading essays during the semester.
- Not to mention the other written assignments. I assign about 5 homework assignments per section, per semester, which take about 8 minutes each to grade, which equates to 77 hours of grading homework during the semester.
- Assuming that for every class session I teach, I prep for one hour, that means I spend 10 hours per week preparing to provide dynamic discussion, lecture, and activities (150 hours per semester).
- Add an additional 30 minutes per day to responding to students via email. 2.5 hours per week, for 15 weeks = 37.5 hours per semester.
When we add this all up, it amounts to a total of 710 hours in 15 weeks (excluding meetings, professional enrichment and curriculum development). This means I am working 50 hours per week for the illustrious title of Adjunct Instructor of English. And if indeed I am making around $9,000 per semester for the privilege of this title, in the end, that turns out to be around $12/hr – my hourly rate at age 16 when I worked at the candy store.
What these numbers don’t capture is the work itself. As a community college instructor, I have the distinct challenge of trying to accommodate students who have difficulty with reading comprehension and basic sentence structure in the same classroom as students who could very well be doing graduate work; ages 16 all the way up to 66, all with a variety of dispositions and levels of motivation.
And I work damn hard to please them all.
I try to assign reading everyone will engage with. I create activities that will be both stimulating and productive. I stay up on the latest pedagogy and composition research. I try to foster a positive environment. I smile a lot. I encourage, encourage, encourage. I advise. I cajole. I spend weekends thinking about how to reinvigorate bored students, whilst providing them with bounteous feedback on their essays (returned in a timely manner, of course).
And I do it because I love it. Because I love to see students improve. Because I love it when students tell me they have become interested in the written word. Because I am an idealist who believes that I really can make a difference. I really can get people to think more critically, to be more open-minded, to create logical arguments.
And the “system,” though I won’t name names, preys on my idealism. Who else would do this work for paltry pay and no benefits? The young, fresh idealists are good for it. The ones who someday hope to earn a faculty role.
I’m their target audience.
But like an elephant who never forgets, an adjunct never complains. Because we’re too busy crossing our fingers for the full time faculty positions. Anxiously awaiting student evaluations, which will no doubt seal our fate in the eyes of the administration.Worrying about the next mortgage payment or trip to the grocery store or credit card statement. Me? Complain? Not me. I am a “good” adjunct. I participate in professional development. I contribute to the community. I do all of the things that a good adjunct does, which, obviously, does not include complaining.
. . .
And then you – you, sir, complain. Because you pay “good money” to be here. Because you are fed up with your peers who are not taking this seriously. Because you believe that you know how an instructor should be teaching. Because you consider yourself a consumer – a customer of the college. You are paying for a product. You want all the features you’ve been promised. With a warranty. And a money-back guarantee.
You shout at me and denigrate my role as the instructor. You make me wonder if my Master’s degree means anything at all. Was all of that work, work, work for naught? Do I know ANYTHING?
You make me want to give up.
But you’re right. I should be more responsible. I should be more accountable. But perhaps not in the way that you mean.
What I DO mean is that, with regard to accounting, those 710 hours for $9,000 don’t quite add up. This isn’t very responsible of me (you’re right!), to be carrying a Master’s degree and a good head on my shoulders, and yet fail to live up to my full earning potential.
Good point. Well played. Thank you for reminding me about responsibility and good accounting.
But more than that:
for reminding me
that I simply don’t get paid enough
to put up with a student
in my face.