Well, my friend, if you don’t have an extra teaching certificate lying around the house then chances are you’re going to wind up needing a master’s degree to teach in a college as an adjunct. And there’s the rub. Here are some warning signs of the horror and strife that await you down the road most often traveled by adjuncts.
1. Respect. The department you work for will have none for you. Ditto your students. It doesn’t matter that a large percentage of the English classes at colleges and universities are taught by adjunct faculty. The majority of the tenured professors won’t bother to talk to you because they’ll think of you as an itinerate worker, which in many ways you are. The students will know that they could’ve had a professor with a doctorate for the same money and will constantly question your credentials.
2. Students. Hell hath no fury like 18-year-old students who are given their first taste of freedom. They are away from home for the first time and are sure they know more than any dumb adjunct. They’ll be so sure of this that even if they turn in no assignments, you’ll find you haven’t really taught them anything at all.
3. Workload. You will have no spare time. If you do, you aren’t doing your job. If you decide to teach English like me you’ll be stuck reading not only lots of papers but lots and lots of the drafts of these same papers. Like an especially brutal form of the Chinese water torture you’ll have to comment heavily on the same papers over and over. This takes time. Lots of time. What’s super is that twice in my career I caught students either erasing or whiteing-out my comments and then handing the same draft, unchanged back into me. Talk about your déj… vu.
4. Money. You’ll have none. This is why you’ll have to get as many gigs as you can. I taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, J. Sargeant Reynolds and Virginia Union University, and my bank account balance was constantly reading somewhere between Jack/Squat and Jack had just left town. The best thing to do to supplement your income as an adjunct is to get a real job like waiting tables or tending bar so you can really enjoy being used and abused as an adjunct on the side.
5. The Good Part. Despite dealing with tons of junk there is a good part. The good part is that even though you’ll experience a bunch of bad stuff, it’s almost impossible not to get in on some good stuff as well. There’ll be a time when the quiet kid who never says anything will speak up and thank you for what she’s learned in your class. Or when the kid whose writing made you shiver truly will try to get better throughout the semester. The good stuff is subtle, but it’s really there if you look hard enough. Still this isn’t to detract anything from taking your head out of the sand and getting a real major like engineering or marketing. Come on, let’s get serious here, OK? S
Francis W. Decker teaches English at Trinity Episcopal School and is Style’s book editor.
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