Nobody Grows Up Thinking: “I Want to be an Adjunct!”

Yesterday we had the once a quarter All Instruction meeting, and I’ll be honest, I never attended these meetings before I had this job. So I get why people aren’t there, and adjuncts, I forgive you more. As I looked around the room, I saw the usual suspects. The tiny core of coolness that makes a place a pleasant daily experience. Commiserated with a poet who was smart enough to bring a notebook to “take notes–something I’ve learned from my students,” he laughs. Made a sarcastic comment or ten to a new dean. Got to hear the lovely smart ideas of my little team. Tried to be more serious and thoughtful in my responses to sincere questions from the VP. Tried not to run over and hug the teacher who asked the same question I was going to ask the student panel.

This question, coming from me, sounds self-serving, selfish, and well, kind of accusatory. But from a teacher, it was beautiful.

How can we create a community in online classes?

The students were asked to talk about what helps them be successful, and the like. One student mentioned one of our philosophy teachers, whom I adore, as helping to create community online by creating podcasts. He felt like he really got to know the teacher by listening to him speak his ideas as part of the assignments. This teacher does not use our LMS, and I’m not particularly interested in standardizing what “teachers should do”–I support in good faith academic freedom.

I do, however, have opinions about ways we can make sure students know what to do and when, so that’s where I focus my energies. That podcast comment made my day, and helped fortify me as I listened to many, many justifiable compliments about technology. As the only technology support person there, I have to work on not taking those comments personally. My dean noticed my very chicken-like behavior of bolting out of the door at the end of the meeting. Rather than schooling me about administrative bravado, she took me into her office and we had a lovely session of Speaking the eLearning Truth.

Truth be told: I love making her laugh–she’s whip smart and it feels like such an accomplishment to make her laugh. She’s invested a ton of time in me, my ideas, and my flaws. Plus, we always talk about books. #lucky

On the agenda, there was supposed to be a question about textbook affordability. That discussion did not happen–to which I’m grateful–also chicken-like, I’ll admit. My co-chair is on sabbatical and I don’t like representing our work in front of the faculty without him. Without him, our OER project would not be happening. I am fiercely dedicated to this idea that OER has to be “faculty-driven” and he’s faculty; I’m not. But I get why he wasn’t there. He’s wigging out about writing a textbook for developmental math students, so I wish him well in his little writing shed near the Chuckanut Mountains. Parsing through OER math problem sets sounds like the outer-circle of hell to me, so I’m glad people like him exist.

I took notes on my phone about the words the students kept returning to:

Flexibility. Approachability. Positivity. Clarity of expectations. Enthusiasm. Bonding. Being open. Mixing it up for learning styles. Teacher presence. Connections. Time.

When the faculty were asked what they needed to do the work of supporting students (the student panel had left, I wanted them to stay), they used words and phrases like:

Rigor, relevance, respect, support, time, more full-timers, paying adjuncts, equity in committee work– and my favorite–the tyranny of administrative tasks. Time.

And again, I listened to many of the common issues on both sides being about The Adjunct Question. I do not mean to belittle the use of The Woman Question by appropriating it (please note I have a vagina)–every opportunity I have right now is the result of people with vaginas asking questions.

People With Vaginas Asking Questions: A Memoir

There are questions we need to be asking. Here’s what I wanted to show everyone yesterday. The slide below is a mainstay in all of my presentations about adjuncts. It makes people laugh, but I’m trying to send a serious message. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and it’s a thought I had when I was around the age of the students in the photo.

I had no idea that these words and phrases existed then: Contingent teachers. Part-time full-time teachers. Adjuncts. Contract teachers. Associate faculty. Junior faculty.

In short, people with no hope of getting full-time work in higher education.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 10.09.11 AM


As discussions proliferate about growing free two-year college offerings, competency-based education, and manufacturing professional-technical programs; I worry for the adjunct. Teaching labor. The quality of online learning. I worry that everyone is talking around The Adjunct Question.

One student said, “You can just tell teachers doesn’t care because they aren’t around. It’s hard to reach them. They don’t seem to care to connect to you. They don’t take the time to talk with you.”

Yes. Some just plain suck. I had those teachers too for every degree I’ve earned. Community college (on my dime) to R1 school (on the state tuition waiver, thankfully)–I have had classes with teachers who just plain suck.

But there are so many who are so good. They could be so much better. They want to be better.

But most teachers are managing course loads and unrealistic work demands just to make a living. The students don’t know that. And nobody really likes talking about it. Why would they?

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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