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While reading my friend and colleague’s blog post “Why Buy the Cow? An Open Letter to the Full-Time Faculty of American Colleges and Universities”, I felt compelled to respond. I just don’t know how to respond. This open letter is not really meant for me; I know the adjunct situation. I already understand the borrowed hours, the lack of sleep. This open letter is meant for those who do not know, the full-time faculty member who assumes that we have “a pretty good gig.” If I also worked full-time elsewhere and could assess my students via multiple-choice exams, I suppose I would have a “pretty good gig.” But, like my aforementioned colleague, I teach composition. Assessment happens with essays. A Scan-tron cannot grade those.

I am always working. Last night, while at a hockey game, I was responding to student emails. I logged on to Blackboard to check on my online courses. I cheered when we scored. I chanted, “Ref, you suck!” I looked up an article on Lena Dunham’s Vogue photo-shoot for a future class discussion.

That’s not to say that my full-time faculty counterpart (I’m not sure I like that word) does not do the same thing. I am sure many of them do. It’s part of the job. I get paid $25,000 a year, gross (no benefits, except for optional 401A). My counterpart? Around $60,000 a year, plus benefits. Granted, full-time faculty have many obligations: committee work, scholarly work, and classroom work. Adjuncts technically only have the classroom obligation, but, adjuncts like my aforementioned colleague (let’s call her Emily from now on, as that is her name) and me, voluntarily participate in scholarly endeavors outside of our required classroom work.

Does that make us fools? Or does that make us professors?

I’m beginning to wonder if the concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.

Emily mentioned the dread of the follow-up questions after we are asked, “What do you do?” and we answer, “I’m a college professor.” There are always follow-up questions. “Oh, where?” When I list two colleges and explain that they are both part-time gigs, I can see the disappointment. Their faces say, “Oh, she’s not really a professor.” Sometimes I believe it.

My husband refers to my situation as “shiny jet syndrome.” My husband is a licensed commercial pilot, though he no longer flies professionally. The pilot is also over-worked and under-paid until he is able to move up the ranks (which takes forever). But, saying you’re a pilot and knowing that, one day (AKA, never), you will fly the future-equivalent of the Concorde, has prestige, even though the bank account does not reflect this prestige. I have “shiny jet syndrome”: I say I’m a college professor because I like the sound. I like what that means to others. I don’t like the truth of my situation (over-worked and under-paid), but I also don’t like the fact that I do this willingly. This was not a career I was forced into; I chose it, knowing the full consequences of that decision.

So, if I chose this career, with full knowledge of what it meant, why am I complaining?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

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I’m sitting in a computer lab on campus in a workshop about using WordPress as a learning tool. Hmmm. I already use WikiSpaces as a learning tool. I wonder if WordPress will work better. Perhaps if the students see it as their own and not a group project, there will be more accountability and, maybe, more interest.

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I submitted this blog entry to AdjunctNation.com about twelve days ago and have yet to hear anything regarding its posting. So, I’m posting it here.

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I had been dealing with intermittent blurry vision in my left eye for about two months. It wasn’t too annoying, and it usually went away after a few minutes. I was hoping it would continue to be a minor nuisance (or go away) until the end of the semester so I could properly deal with it without having to cancel any classes.

 

This was not to be.

 

Two weeks before the end of the semester, I was doing some grocery shopping. I came around the corner to see what yogurt was on sale and I lost complete vision in my eye. I couldn’t read the expiration dates on the yogurt. I moved to the checkout, hoping my vision would clear, as usual.

 

It did not. Driving home was interesting.

 

After hours of crying, my vision slowly cleared. I knew I couldn’t wait until the end of the semester to deal with this. I made an appointment with my neurologist and canceled my classes.

 

The sad thing is I was more worried about canceling my penultimate week of classes than I was about my vision. I had had an attack of optic neuritis before (I have MS), so I figured I would go on IV steroids and it would clear up and everything would be fine. I was, however, worried that I wouldn’t be hired back for canceling a week of class meetings at the end of the semester.

 

It wasn’t optic neuritis. It was (it is) Ohthoff’s Phenomenon (we think). Not only did the steroids not help, they made me nauseated, a side effect I’ve never had before (I’ve been on IV at least once a year since 2007). I spent four days in bed (not grading). The whole time, I was so worried about the security of my job, worried that I was failing the students, worried that I was inconveniencing everyone. The (very real) possibility of a blown vein barely crossed my mind.

 

The worry probably made me sicker than the steroids.

 

It turned out that my worries were unfounded, at least at one school. A colleague expressed her sympathy and just wanted me to get better. “Your students will understand,” she said. It concerns me, however, that I felt it was necessary to worry at all. I was having a legitimate medical emergency, after all. I wasn’t canceling classes for a girl’s weekend in Vegas. But the instability of the adjunct contract is so centered in my thinking that I will teach classes with strep throat rather than cancel (and that’s not hyperbole). I don’t want to appear undependable.  I don’t want to remind anyone that I am expendable.  I do, after all, need the money to pay for insurance so that I can go to a neuro-ophthalmologist to figure out why my peripheral vision is still blurry and if I will ever get better.

 

Good thing it’s summer; I won’t have to cancel classes for the appointment.

 

 

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I Will Start This Blog. I Mean It!

Adventures in cranky essays and rhyming poetry from an unlikely single mom.