Archive for February 7th, 2010

Three uses of the knife

Dean Dad observes that last week’s New York Times article “Back to School, as an Adjunct” can be read as “refreshing, bizarre, or deeply offensive.” I was all ready to get offended, but I think I’m going to have to go with Dean Dad: it’s mostly bizarre.

Here’s the part that is not bizarre, but also not quite openly expressed: for some professionals, adjunct teaching might just possibly make sense as a way to broaden their skills and their networks in a time of economic uncertainty.  The article quotes a consultant who operates an outfit called Faculty Development Associates, which “helps colleges train teachers”–Google the name and have a look at the website; interesting that some colleges outsource this kind of professional development for adjuncts in the trenches.  Anyway, this fellow told the reporter that “part-time teaching can broaden one’s résumé and contacts…In professions like the law, he added, it can be an excellent way to find new clients.”

I assume that he means that your reputation will get around, and that former students might conceivably approach you later as potential clients, or recommend you to their friends in need of legal advice.  I certainly hope he doesn’t recommend passing out your business cards and brochures in class. 

Digression:  In the creative-writing biz, there are many teachers who troll for new private students by teaching otherwise poorly recompensed adult-ed classes.  I find this potentially a little icky; if I’m going to work with former students, I would really prefer to do it for free and in a way that has some natural limitation to it (i.e., I’ll read your manuscript and meet you for coffee to discuss it, but when we get up from coffee, we’re done, and if I’m too busy to do this, then we don’t do it; you don’t get to rent me.  Oh, and if I don’t like your work, or think I have anything to offer you, I’m too busy).  But I do know people who do it in a way that doesn’t seem objectively icky to me.

But say you’re a lawyer who’s hung out a shingle, and business is slow lately, and a new firm has moved in down the street (obviously I know nothing about the actual lives of lawyers).  Maybe you have a little teaching experience; let’s say you did an M.A. in history  before you went to law school.  And let’s say you have a neighbor who is the assistant registrar at the local community college, and she suggests that you might consider applying to teach one of the criminal procedure classes the CC offers for students who are preparing for careers in criminal justice.  The course uses a standard textbook, so you don’t have to guess what your students need to know, and the department has ten semesters’ worth of old syllabi on file, so you have something to guide you in terms of how much work you should assign.

Particularly if you already have a little bit of a taste for teaching, something many people do have, why wouldn’t you consider this?  You’d be out in the community, meeting people with whom you otherwise wouldn’t cross paths.  You’d pick up a little bit of cash while adding something interesting to your bio and developing a new bunch of skills.   

 This goes double and triple if you’re in a profession that’s actually endangered, such as journalism.  

But now we get into the bizarre part, which is that the article seems totally out of touch with the concept that, as DD points out, these jobs are real work.  The learning curve in teaching is steep; heck, before you even set foot in the classroom, you have to grasp about a thousand things about your campus, its culture, how things work there, why you can’t just say “Sure” when a student you’ve never seen before walks in the door and asks to add your class.  Having been a student is very faint preparation for teaching a roomful of them; in some ways, it’s almost counter-preparative (not a word, I think, but you know what I mean), because of all the misconceptions students have about what teachers do and why they do it the way they do.

The Times often publishes terrific articles about workplace issues: dealing with workplace bullies, communicating with people one level up or down, developing teamwork, learning the culture of a new office, and so on.  It’s bizarre that this article overlooks that adjuncts have to cope with all that sort of thing, starting from the very first step toward getting the job in the first place.  It’s like one of those teaching daydreams you have before you begin to teach, the one in which everything magically begins when you walk into the classroom on the first day of classes. 

Like I said, bizarre.