If I know this community well, there will be mind blowing bloggy blog bloggery for days after the OpenEd conference. People are going to reflect, synthesize, question, debate better than I can because I had a bit of a different experience. It was my first OpenEd and my time there felt a bit like hosting a party for all of my favorite people. I had a responsibility to be mindful of hospitality. A role that is a great privilege of my life—not just my career—I knew a lot of people in that space. In that community. Some of the faces I got to see are my dearest friends. Many are people I’m hoping to become friends with in the future. I had the privilege of being a woman in this space who has a lot of very cool brothers. My Ed Tech dude-friends are like the brothers I’ve never had. The women are more than sisters. They are my inspiration. The reason I stay in this gig.
One woman, who could be described as one of the major leaders in Open, shared with me her true feelings about her friendship with another woman. “Without her, I would not have been able to live through this year.” And it was honest. Real. Heartfelt. Full of pain. Joyful in the moment of sharing. I had to miss the UnCommon Women session, but it seemed to have had an impact on a lot people so I hope somebody will write about so I can know what I missed.
I know some people so well that I had full conversations with them across the room just by looking into their eyes. I hugged and got hugged more than normal on a work day. People that I think are total visionaries who I planned to fangirl faint and swoon over when I met them, led with saying “Oh my gosh, I love your work so much….” Hey. Wait. What? That’s what I was going to say!
When the morning keynote began, I looked around the room at the faces in the audience. I saw high-level administrators in the room who sacrifice their own careers to help their faculty. Because they care about students. Instead of worrying about their own promotions and reputations, they spend a lot of unrecognized time trying to get more staffing and support for their faculty and students. I know those people have sacrificed a lot to keep this idea moving forward. Sacrifices to their health. Their relationships. Their time. Their own self-care. They sit at a lot of tables where people are unkind to their ideas yet they keep persisting. They stay in this for their people. They lived through hurricanes, shootings, violence, and suffering with their staff, faculty, and students. And on top of all those other duties assigned, they teach. They publish. They research. They resist. They persist. They are my inspiration.
When I looked around the room during the first keynote, I could barely pay attention to his words because I was so nervous for my friends who helped put on that student panel. I had the privilege of having breakfast with that student panel, and they were even more lovely before they got up on stage. They were so comfortable with each other and they were genuinely excited to be there. On the way down to the conference, I gave them my card and I told them that I write really great letters of recommendations. I’d help them if I could when they go on the job market. I told them this conference is a very big deal and they were so brave to talk about their experience. I shared with them that everyone in the room is going to be thinking about how they can hire them once they graduate. This is how it works, I said. People won’t forget you. You’re going to be so loved. You’re so brave, I said.
When Robin DeRosa’s Minnie Mouse ears popped up and she said, “How do we hire them to come to our campuses?” I jumped up and threw them a Yes Yes Y’all with my fist and they smiled so big and laughed. We had a very private moment of sharing in a room full of people. Though I’m sure I looked ridiculous to those around me.
This is all about people for me. It’s about connecting people and ideas. It’s about connecting to this community. It’s about The People. And this work has gotten harder. Really hard. More difficult. More taxing. Yet even more needed.
I looked around the room and I realized that I also knew a lot of people who are very new to this community. Very new. I’ve been to 67 schools in one year. If you count the multiple visits to the same campuses, I’ve been to 73 schools in 11 states. Five giant systems. Small schools. Rural. Urban. Talking about This Idea. All the This in the Open.
They know words like constructivism and problem-based learning, but they have never heard of open pedagogy. They know service learning and communities of practice, but they don’t know how to get started in the digital space to make that work connect to others. They don’t know what a domain is but they know it’s a real pain in the ass when you lose access to your teaching materials. They have adopted an Open course, but they haven’t edited anything yet and they have no idea why that matters so much to some people. They know Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic, but they may not know the 5Rs. They don’t care about the theories and ideas I care about. What you may care about.
They care about their students. This I know from the work that I’ve been privileged to do.
And thus, I knew a lot of people. After this conference, I’m still reflecting on where I fit into this community and my role in it, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to get something off my chest in this space so that I don’t melt down on my husband. This post is a bit of self-care to make sure I’m the best I can be for somebody who truly loves me. My favorite life-long adjunct. So here goes.
I need to tell you a story about leadership.
A beloved leader teacher friend once shared with me that leadership is about seeing your people as either Weapons or Soldiers. The Weapon does one thing very well. Point. Shoot. Repeat. Keep it clean. Make sure it works. Point. Shoot. Aim. Fire. Your Soldiers, on the other hand, figure how to survive no matter what the orders. No matter what the situation. They can manage five jobs at once to get The Job done. They can make a weapon out of anything. They need orders but once they’re in the field you trust them do their job. You need to have their backs if they fuck things up and you need take the blame should your superiors get angry at your Soldiers. You hope they inspire the Weapons, but you don’t push it. The Soldier needs to stay focused on the strategy and your Weapons get all the shit done to make sure the tactics work.
It’s a simple binary, right? It’s all so confusing. I thought hard as I listened to him tell this story. Am I somebody’s Weapon? Am I a Soldier? As I was listening to my very brilliant friend, all I could think about was that I’m a pacifist who doesn’t see the point of the war.
This life is not the life that I thought I would have. I thought by this point in my life I would be the next Joan Didion and I’m not. When I shared my sadness about not being Joan at this conference, my dear friend Mike Caulfield said, “Well, you didn’t know there weren’t going to be any more Joan Didions back then either so it’s okay. You’re good.” Open bars bring out the best in my Open friends.
This life is not the story I want to tell you about either. I want to tell you about an experience that I keep having at academic conferences. Especially in the last four years. This is not exclusive to OpenEd17.
There is a systemic disease in higher education where somehow people think it is okay to pin their problems on adjuncts, and it’s not.
Let me give you a little pro-tip if I’m in the room with you. Don’t ever blame the state of higher education and all its woes on adjuncts. Let me repeat. Don’t ever blame all the fucked up shit in higher education on adjunct faculty. Ever. It’s like putting pressure on a very old deep wound of mine and I have to say something. I can’t stop myself even though I know I should.
Let me give you two tips, actually. Don’t ever make the claim that a faculty member at a community college deserves less than an R1 researcher. That R1s and regional publics somehow have the ability to determine the quality of materials because of their credentials or the status of their schools. That what they have created in the community college arena isn’t good enough for university students.
Let me give you three tips. Don’t ever shit on adjuncts around me. Ever. Or I’m going to say something to you that you probably don’t want to hear. Even though I’m trying to dial that rage back because it only hurts me. It only hurts me, and I know better.
That person will never hear what I say. It’s not a conversation. It’s a declaration of power from that person and I’m sick of hearing about it. I am really sick of talking about it. Yet I still speak up. Yet I type here.
It happens at every conference when there is a discussion about teaching and learning. With one such interaction this past week, I listened to long tales of funding woes and that adjuncts don’t care about this. That. Adjuncts don’t do this and adjuncts don’t do that. All the negatives. All the negatives. And I get it. Some are not worth defending. I know this.
I snapped a bit when I heard a complaint about not having funding to send an adjunct to this particular conference. This funding struggle is real, but I think there is a way to solve it.
I asked, “You’re here, right? Somebody paid for you to be here. What about giving up your spot at this table to send your best adjunct next year? What about advocating for your best adjunct to be here? You have a year to make that happen. Why not give up your space at this table?”
Silence no response. Started packing up his bag. Note the pronoun in the previous sentence. Conversation over. Thanks for sharing. Fuck you very much lady.
Here’s the thing. Somebody else in the room was listening.
A very quiet administrator walked over to me after this interaction, and she was very soft-spoken. She said, “I overheard your idea. Can we chat for a minute? I’m going to send my best adjunct here next year. She’s doing the best work with her students using online resources that she finds on the internet. She would get a lot more out of this conference because she actually teaches. My boss thought I should be here to represent my college.” (emphasis mine).
I’m going to pause here for a minute to give you time to shake your head.
At the moment that I’m making a new friend, I got this pained looked on my face. This is not the conference where “representing your college” matters. She thinks she said something wrong. She is picking up on my weird energy and at that same moment one of my favorite administrators on the fucking planet bounces by with super-cute-double-hair-buns looking stoked about life. And I want to run after her and say hello but I have to finish this moment with this person. Let the record show that I resisted crying twice after seeing Amy Collier for the first time in two years because I’m a professional when I need to be. Sorta.
I breath. Dry up the tear ducts, Indrunas. Focus. I say, “What can I do to help you?”
She said, “I just don’t want her to be lonely because it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of adjunct faculty here. These are a lot of impressive people who are very accomplished in their roles.”
I’m thinking “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I’m going to introduce her to [enter all my brothers and sisters here] who have been adjuncts or they care a great deal about adjuncts.” She won’t be alone, I promise.
I told her I’d try to get more adjuncts here next year. I gave her my card.
She’s a life-long adjunct, she added. We’ll probably never have a position for her but we’d like to keep her.
Here we go.
I know this story. I used to be that gal to several of my department chairs. I broke their hearts when I left teaching. Broke their hearts. I can’t tell that story today. Here is some of the story if you’d like to read it.
She also said, “I need data to help me support that OER works so that I can secure the funding.”
Data. Sigh. What do you mean that it works? What the hell does that even mean? For whom? Why? How do we measure success? I can’t unload the Ranty McRanty Pants Indrunas on her.
So I say, what do your superiors want to hear about the data on OER?
I get it. Numbers are an easy way to substantiate claims. The Quant always wins street cred over the emotional Qual. I’m a mixed methods thinker. Numbers aren’t enough for me and words don’t work up the chain of command. A beloved friend and colleague summarizes this battle well with one of his best quotes: “Data is for the weak.”
So instead I said: Open education makes people happier and they stay where they are when they feel respected and excited about their teaching. The feeling transfers to the students. A transactional learning experience becomes transformational. It rescues mid-life career adjuncts from burnout. It’s my hunch on things based on many conversations I’ve had with people. I can’t substantiate any of this with numbers, but I’m happy to talk to your superiors. I can help you get a lot of data if that’s what it takes to get your best adjunct here. Let’s figure out what your superiors care about and then let’s find the data. If that’s what it takes to help you keep your best adjunct here.
We can (maybe) help them be happier people as life-long adjuncts.
I want to respect a “life-long adjunct” because I was one. I’m married to one. Many of my good friends fall into this category.
Let me tell you now about one of my worst mistakes as leader.
I shared my career story once at a workshop by saying I got into learning about open education and thinking about education and technology because I wanted to escape being a life-long adjunct. I didn’t know my audience—I was talking to a room full of life-long adjuncts.
At lunch one of them said to me, “I’d love to be full-time faculty but I’ve accepted this is the only skill I have. At least I’m a life-long adjunct in a unionized system. That makes a difference.” Ab-so-fucking-lute-ly, I almost said and then stopped myself. Instead I shared that I had a retirement plan and benefits thanks to the faculty union in Washington State. I’m here because they invested in professional development for their faculty. I admitted that I worry a great deal about the power of administrators and the private sector in non-union states. He and I then had a spirited discussion about educational policy and open education. That night I kept my frigid hotel room warm with the heat of my shame. My regret of telling my story about “escaping being a life-long adjunct” to people who do not have options–I don’t tell that story anymore.
I sometimes overhear my Mister sharing what it was like for me circa 2003 when people ask him about his career. He shares that his current experience is so unlike mine. Back then, we would let the answering machine grab every call and we’d listen to panicked administrators calling on a Friday afternoon to staff a class that started on Monday. I had an application at every community college—and I’m not exaggerating—from Bellingham to South Seattle. That’s nine community colleges. I chose not to answer the phone two weeks before the start of the quarter because I worried that if I turned down a dean who was in pinch, she’d never hire me again.
We’d sit on the couch sipping beers and calculating if I should accept the offer and thus screw over the people who were already depending on me. I decided to stay loyal to two colleges, and that served me well in my career. My heart breaks when I hear him describe the radio silence during these recent hiring seasons. The phone, he says, never rings. They don’t even email me back a rejection, he says. They can’t even bother to automate a rejection email in 2017, he says. A part of me wishes we had never chosen to become teachers. A small part of me hates myself for feeling that way. A larger part of me can’t imagine a life that is disconnected from academia. A small part of me knows my life would be easier if I didn’t care so much. But I do. Okay, where was I? Right.
Bring your best adjunct to a conference. Your best life-long adjunct.
Had somebody done that for me, I might have stayed a teacher. Maybe. Or I would have been smarter faster about educational technology. I wouldn’t have been so trusting. Maybe. Or I would have done more creative things. Maybe.
Here’s what I wouldn’t have been: I wouldn’t have been so lonely.
Maybe I would’ve found my brothers and sisters as a teacher instead in this community of whatever it is I am now. I would have found My People. I would have been happier.
I have one idea to throw out there, and if you’re listening and you’d like to share your ideas, please do.
What about bringing your adjuncts who are doing some sort of open pedagogy without even knowing it’s a thing? And by all means don’t tell them to research prior to coming. They should just tell their stories of how they work with their students and their faculty.
I attended two presentations at OpenEd17 where the teachers were killing it with ideas about involving their students and colleagues and they never used the phrase “open pedagogy” once. They shared rich stories of faculty collaboration without using any of the lingo. The jargon. The Ideas. The acronyms. The camps. The sides. The debate.
I need more of these stories in my life. This to me, is bigger than Open.
So how do we make this Idea of sharing happen?
At local conferences. At regional conferences. At the Big Dances like OpenEd? In your teaching and learning center? In your library? In campus coffee shop? And then how do we virtually connect to what you are doing?
How do we bring more adjuncts to the table?
I don’t know, so I’m just going to end this bit of self-care post so I can walk my dog and enjoy my home before the work week begins again. I’m going to cook for my favorite life-long adjunct and we’re going to talk about movies and bike racing.
I’ll conclude with Joan Didion:
“I closed the box and put it in a closet. There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.”
Thanks very much for this — it inspires me to keep striving to make connections 🙂
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❤ Thank you, thank you, thank you.
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This. I just missed a session I’m hanging out in (a room full of funders) while I wait to talk on a panel to grantmakersforeducation about faculty and OER, because I started reading this and could not stop… synchronicity. Thank you from my heart. And I’m married to an adjunct (who created his own OER classes), too, in a field few care about right now, ESL/ELL. Hope we can talk soon.
I’m in adult ed and wondering why notes on those sessions are absent… did nobody attend them?
I was too fried to multi-task and take notes, sadly. The sessions I convened were the few moments where I could be wholly present, so I’ll post some thoughts at a later time. There is still much to share post-conference with slides etc. Look for information on that soon.
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How to even begin to say how much I appreciate you and the time you took to read my work? Thank you. It’s feminists like you that helped pave the way for me and I’m so honored we’re friends. Still much work to be done, yes. Happy we can do this work together.
Your guy is doing great work–those students care. I hope we can talk soon, and I’m looking so forward to seeing you in New York.
All my love,
Hi Alyson, I totally get the life of a life-long-adjunct. I struggle with the – what if I WANT to be an adjunct? And yet, their is forever the challenge of making connections and the amazing opportunities that is actually attending conferences. I have learned to spend time on Virtually Connecting – to use that as a way to connect with people – I met most of the people I know in the OpenEd world through VC. It is the one free way I can make connections – and yet free isn’t really free – because it takes time, time in which I’m not being paid. It isn’t just about funding to attend, it is the lack of wages that come along with spending the time to travel and be at a conference – when adjuncts rarely make a living wage. And I am thankful to work for universities that are unionized – but more I’m thankful that I am lucky enough to have a partner who works in high tech and gets benefits so that I don’t need to add that worry to my life. But I still worry about the voices that are not in the room, because sometimes Open is a privilege that only the privileged can enjoy.
Thank you for responding to my writing with such a thoughtful post. You remind me of the greater complexity of just getting somebody there. Childcare, eldercare, family, illness…all of those things make it difficult to be there IRL. Your work with VC is your finest contribution and I’m so thankful for that work. Open as a privilege is something the whole VC community reminds us. Free is never free, yes, you have sparked so many thoughts for me as usual! Thank you for posting your thoughts. It means so much to me.
Cheers to you–now ride that bike:)
Yes yes and yes.
Okay, so when do we have a cycling unconference session?
Your approach. Your candor. Your socks. This is why we connected silently before we ever spoke at the conference. I spent a brief time as an adjunct, so I do basically get it. Thanks for the post.
Thank you for reading, and I really enjoyed our chat. And anyone who loves my socks is a friend:) ModSock is my go-to source since they support women and girls who bike race. Great people. Let’s keep in touch, lady.
Celebrate adjuncts next week: https://www.campusequity2017.com/ I plan on making cookies for some of my favorite part timers, and buying myself a beer for my own adjunct work.
Love it. Will share out. You make some damn good cookies, and you should buy yourself a growler. Thanks for reading, kitten.
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