When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, July 6, 2012

I am Adjunct

I am an adjunct. That's a fancy word for part-time college teacher. I'm not a professor. Professor is actually a rank you can reach through certain qualifications at any college or university, not necessarily requiring a doctorate, but definitely requiring a master's degree. I don't hold a doctorate yet--I hope to some day, as it's one of only 2 items on my "bucket" list--so my students don't call me "Doctor" before my name. Most people don't think of "teacher" in the same line as college unless you're talking about training to become a primary or secondary teacher (that's elementary through high school). My status is one that defies traditional definition by most employment standards. I guess I am technically a contract employee, though my position is really too valuable to cut away. I probably valued myself into a corner, honestly, as I am the only adjunct actually employed by the college who is willing to go out to the high schools to teach my courses, instead of teaching them online or requiring the students to come to the college campus. Most other "adjuncts" who teach at the high schools are actually high school teachers, employed by the school district, who happen to teach a college level course at the high school along with the other high school level courses on their docket. These folks draw their pay from the district. I get mine from the college.

So, what's so special about being an adjunct? Don't I have any ambition? Am I satisfied being in no-man's land? Isn't adjuncting something for retirees and grad students? Yeah, this is part of what makes me a little harder to define. Although it might help if you read The Adventures of Unemployed Man and took a look at the character Master of Degrees. I could relate to him quite a bit in that I started out teaching at college because it seemed to be the only job that anyone was willing to give me that actually utilized my master's degrees (yes, I have two, an M.S. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and an M.B.A.). The only other jobs I seemed to be able to get were temp positions, even though they were full-time. But, I believe God sends me where He needs me when I'm needed there. So, I continue to teach part-time and at the moment it is essentially my career. The only upward mobility available would be to obtain a full-time position. This was proven not possible at the moment, as I didn't even make the cut to the interviewing stage for the only open psychology position in my department--someone has to die or retire for a position to open. I tell myself it's mostly because I am the only one willing to trek out to the high school. What makes me believe this isn't a delusion? The high school has requested I return every fall/spring semester for the last 4 years. I'll be starting my 5th year at the same high school in August. My boss even assumes that I'll be there before asking me if I want to teach any other classes at the college campus. Plus, if I weren't a "valuable" adjunct, then I wouldn't have a maximum load each semester. The maximum number of classes the college is willing to pay an adjunct for is 4 each semester. I usually get 4 classes each fall and 4 each spring. One semester I had as many as 6 before we realized that they meant 4 total, not 4 simultaneously. See, I often get half-semester courses stacked back-to-back, also. To put this in perspective, full-time faculty have to turn in an "overload" contract if they teach more than 5 classes. Yeah, I'm always just 1 class away from full-time work, though I would still be paid at the part-time rate because of my classification.

Most of the other adjuncts in my department are 1) retirees who teach because they love it and it keeps them busy; 2) grad students working on their doctorate so they can move on to better things or higher pay; or 3) full-time employees at other places who pick up a class or two, usually at night, to keep their knowledge sharp and because they enjoy teaching. I'm one of the only ones who does this for my "living." If I were to get a full-time job or start my "real" career path anywhere else, then I would most likely have to give up teaching. I do have a daughter, after all. As far as ambition, I do have it. As I mentioned, I did try to get a full-time position. I have been job searching, though not actively hunting, for the last 3 years. I even tried to get my certification so that I could get a job at the high school full-time, but the district is just not hiring social studies or psychology teachers. Again, I valued myself into a corner. The school district does not have to pay me, the college does that. The district just pays a fractional fee for the college credit and provides the textbooks for their students. I'm comparatively cheap for them, so why would they want to invest in me full-time? But, I am content with my status at the moment. Want to know why? She's 10 years old and the center of my life.

That's right, my no-man's land status gives me the flexibility to be there for my daughter when she needs me. When I am not actively teaching my classes, I hang out in the adjunct office grading and prepping lectures until my daughter gets out of school, or camp, or whatever she's doing during "normal business hours." I try to get as much done in the office as I can so that I can have more time with her. Most adjuncts come to teach their class, step into the office to make copies or sit for their required half hour a week, and then go home. I sometimes spend as much time in the office during the week as my full-time counter parts. The only difference is that I have to drive to my class during the fall and spring when I go out to the high school. I usually go unnoticed, which is fine by me. Being part-time also means that I'm not expected to show up to department meetings (they're almost always during my high-school classes) or other after-hours functions. I don't belong to the "family" and yet I do. I'm sure I'd be welcomed if I ever did show up, but I choose to spend that time with my daughter. I may not have all the availability of a SAHM (stay at home mom)--I can't really get a substitute since my class is so specialized--but when I'm not teaching I can be there.

We'll see how long this status lasts. I do have some ambition. I do plan on earning that PhD in educational psychology (I'm thinking adult eduction as my focus) and I do plan on eventually working for the Walt Disney Corporation, eventually. God will send me somewhere else when I am needed more there than I am needed here. Right now my daughter needs me to be sane (so the work helps) and available after school, so my part-time no-man's land position as an adjunct fits the bill. It doesn't pay as much of the bills as I'd like, but that's also why I'm eternally grateful for my husband and his support (ALL the types of support you can think of) during this phase of my "career."

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