Breathing lessons

I’m an adjunct, mostly.  I don’t currently have a regular full-time position and have never held a position on the tenure track, though I have had regular appointments for terms as long as three years.  Last year, I had a one-year visiting position in a liberal arts college in a different part of the country; I’m sure I’ll write about that at some point.  I’ve also had longer appointments elsewhere, but in the current version of my teaching life, I teach English composition and literature at three different schools (though normally just two at a time) in the large urban sprawl where I normally live.  Of course, “English composition” and “English literature” mean something quite different from place to place:

  • For school one, which is a two-year specialized proprietary college (2YC), I teach regular composition and also a course which I suspect would be called remedial composition at most other colleges.  I’ve also taught other required gen-ed courses, including speech.  The bulk of my income comes from my work at 2YC, where I also work shifts in the tutoring center.
  • For school two, which is a B.A. institution (BAC), I teach one segment of a three-part academic writing course.   
  • School three is my graduate university (GU), where I am currently attempting to finish my Ph.D.  I’m T.A.’ing a literature course there now, but this completes my teaching allotment (which is limited by the university) and I won’t be teaching there this upcoming year, though I may be able to do some grading for some professor’s big lecture course.  

Then, of course, there’s creative writing, which has been the subject for which I’ve been appointed to yearlong, regular, benefits-granting positions.  While I am a pretty sloppy-looking academic, I am a reasonably productive creative writer, with one book, a list of literary-magazine publications, a few big-name grants and some good professional activity going on.  So that if I do end up getting hired into a regular full-time position somewhere, perhaps even on the tenure track, it will probably have more to do with my creative writing than with my academic work (though part of the rationale for completing the Ph.D. was to make me more hireable, particularly since I don’t have an M.F.A.).

(Tangent: I feel myself  putting up a fence of sharpened sticks around my actual writing; I just feel completely unwilling to talk about that yet, can’t even quite bring myself to identify the genre.  It galls me a bit to write about this lit-biz stuff–I’m a “productive” creative writer!  With respectable “professional activity”!–as though it were the point itself, rather than ancillary to the writing.  However, for now you’ll just have to take my word for that.)

Anyway, as I was saying, I am not currently teaching creative writing in a college setting, but a couple of times a year I do seem to end up teaching it in a kind of alternative setting–giving a private workshop, for example, or teaching a couple of craft classes at a summer conference.  These are usually delightful teaching experiences, as “nontraditional” classes often are.  Spending a couple of hours in a room with twenty aspiring writers 18 and up (and I do mean “up”; my oldest student ever, in a university extension course, was 91, and I have had more than a dozen students in their seventies), all of whom have chosen to be there and most of whom in fact regard being there as a treat they look forward to all year—suffice it to say that it’s more than a compensation for hours spent in classes with students who wish they didn’t have to take English composition and hope to do as little work as possible to squeak by. 

This summer I’m doing one course, currently in progress, at GU and three at 2YC.  I’ll also do a spot of creative-writing-in-an-alternative-setting, as mentioned above.  In fact, I really should add preparing that to my to-do list.  The syllabi on my to-do list need to be prepared for my 2YC classes (yes, it’s three different preps), which begin in the next week and a half.  Things will be pretty busy for a few weeks as the courses overlap, then settle down to a steady rhythm through August and September, with one long absence (for a conference) that will have to be planned for.

I’m sure I’ll write more about teaching at 2YC, but the short version is that it’s probably pretty typical in terms of the good and bad of teaching on an adjunct basis at a proprietary two-year school.  No one has tenure, and I believe that this is one of the reasons that it’s an extremely collegial place: the faculty are not, for the most part, in direct competition with one another, and I’ve never been anywhere that people were so generous with their ideas, strategies, syllabi, handouts, etc.  It’s also very flexible on a term-by-term basis; if you want to teach a lighter schedule one term, and a heavy one the next, or never to teach on Mondays, or to always have Wednesday afternoons free, the conditions for that are pretty good.  I went off to my one-year position last year without burning any bridges, and was warmly welcomed back.   Since most of the gen-ed faculty teach most of the courses we offer, it’s often possible to swap courses if you do end up with a less-than-ideal schedule, and I’m hoping that I won’t have trouble finding the substitutes I’ll need this summer.  (I have more professional commitments this summer than usual, and I’m a little concerned about how to keep my absences from messing up the courses, but I think it’s doable.) 

On the bad side, of course, the pay is poor, there’s little security and the benefits are not much to speak of–although it looks like I may be able to get health insurance there when my coverage from GU ends.  And there’s the constant challenge of engaging students who mostly didn’t like your subject in high school and hoped they wouldn’t have to take it in college.  Even that, though, has a bright side, in that some of them do respond, and work hard to improve their writing, and grow in confidence and ability.  When I taught at a rather snazzy university, I loved working with its accomplished, brilliant and skillful students, but it seemed that they would learn well even if the teaching was merely adequate.  I’m a sucker for the student who says, at the end of the course, “I always hated writing, but I hate it less now” or some similar comment that hints at incremental progress.  However, I’d still like to be teaching more literature, and hearing the version that goes “I always thought I didn’t like poetry (or Shakespeare or whatever), but some of that stuff is pretty great.”

2 responses to this post.

  1. […] me to wake up and smell the coffee about the situation at 2YC.  (I described that situation here; all that changes in the fall is that I stop teaching at GU, jack up the number of courses at 2YC, […]


  2. […] used this title years ago, in very different circumstances, but I think it’s okay to use it again […]


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