I am an adjunct instructor at a community college. “Adjunct” at a “Community College”… in the hierarchy of college teaching, I am the absolute bottom feeder. The pay sucks. There are no benefits. There is no job security from one semester to the next. I love my job. I love my job like little kids love Christmas morning. I love my job like my dog loves licking his balls. I love my job like Kanye West loves himself. This is all to say I really, really like what I do.
A few events occurred to spark this rant (the rant is coming.) My daughter is in a jump start program, and she is attending our local community college in lieu of her senior year of high school. Today was her first day of classes. Think back to your first day of college. Remember the excitement and trepidation? The feeling that your whole world was about to change right then? Now, imagine how a young person not even out of high school would feel on their first day.
My daughter’s English instructor didn’t show up. I don’t know the circumstances. Maybe he or she is dead. Maybe she won the lottery and said, “fuck this.” It doesn’t matter. A classroom full of students sat at their desks, wasting their time, and waited. Nobody came to say, “Your professor won the lottery and said ‘fuck this.'” The school couldn’t even post a note on the door saying class was cancelled. This was the first class. Want a how-to tutorial on ways to kill the learning spark? Here you go.
The other rant sparking event was yesterday when I was in the adjunct resource room at my school prepping for my classes. A few other adjuncts were there, and they were complaining about how their students don’t pay attention and don’t respect them. Another, wearing a suit and tie, commented that he dresses that way to command respect. Yes, he said “command.” Yet another chimed in with how it is impossible to connect with students today. I was biting my tongue so hard it probably started to bleed.
I do not claim to be a great teacher. I have a terminal degree in creative writing, and I don’t even teach creative writing. Where I do claim to be great is in how much I fucking care. A student may not like me. They may not like the teaching I provided, but no student of mine will ever say I didn’t do everything I possibly could to help them learn. Every student who passes a course of mine will have learned everything the course was intended to teach, won’t be bored out of their fucking mind…and hopefully much more.
So, disgruntled or frustrated college teachers, here’s my list of things to help you suck less.
*Get off your high horse. Blow your pedagogy and andragogy out your ass. Your students don’t care, and they just think you’re a pompous dick when you start spouting off to demonstrate how smart you are. Hint: your students assume you know more than they do. That’s why they’re in your fucking class. You don’t need to demonstrate it.
*Quit taking attendance. If students aren’t showing up for class, they may have actual lives outside of your class (shocking, I know), or they may find you boring as fuck, or they know they can ace the class regardless of showing up. You should acknowledge the first, and the next two are all on you.
*Allow and encourage them to address you by your first name. Yes, we’re all very proud of the advanced degrees on our walls…except your students. Demanding the “Professor” designation is just you telling them that you think you’re special. Want to connect with someone? Don’t start with telling them you’re separate and better.
*Show up. I mean this in the literal sense (recall my daughter’s experience above) and figuratively. Want to engage your students? Show them you’re engaged. Do as much work, or more, than you’re asking them to do.
*Take off your fucking tie. Unless you teach at Wharton, I doubt any of your students are wearing a tie to class. Your “professional attire” is not demonstrating your commitment to professionalism. It is just another way for you to set yourself apart from and above your students. The exception is bow ties. Bow ties say, “I’m a quirky dork,” and that is awesome.
*Be accountable to your students. If my daughter’s English prof shows up and lectures the class about commitments and responsibility, I will encourage her to give him the one fingered salute. We, the teachers, set deadlines. These are necessary for logistical reasons and our sanity. Set deadlines for yourself and tell your students. Don’t drop their grade on a paper because it was a day late then get around to grading those papers three weeks from now.
*Stop restricting their use of cell phones. If they’re staring at their phones the entire class period, that’s on them for missing the pearls of wisdom you were dropping, and you’re boring as shit. Plus, their phone is intricate to their lives. You don’t have to understand. Just accept it.
*Respect is earned. It isn’t commanded. It can’t be ordered. If you want respect, earn it. Respect is also overrated. I’m sure half my students think I’m a goofball dork with possible mental deficiencies. I don’t care. I care about getting them to participate and learn.
*Recognize that your students are your customers. They paid. You’re a service provider just like the guy working the McDonald’s drive through. Your masters or doctoral degree does not make you a special and unique snowflake to be revered. It qualifies you to serve your customers.
*Stop giving lectures. I’m willing to bet that three thousand years ago some Greek listened to Plato drone on for two hours and said, “fucking kill me now.” Yet, we still do it today. Think in terms of outcome. You want the student to leave the class having learned what? Then, back into that. What can you do, or better yet have them do, to get that outcome? If your answer is lecture, just quit being a teacher now.
*Your students are not lucky to be in your class….unless you were Kurt Vonnegut, and then your students were totally lucky. Otherwise, you’re lucky to get to teach them. You’ve been given a great privilege and responsibility. Act like it.
*Recognize that a poor or failing grade is substantially your fault too.
*Quit regurgitating the text. Unless you’re teaching remedial reading, your students can read. They don’t need you to read to them what they read. Your presence is supposed to provide insight, synthesis, application, and context.
*Powerpoint….just don’t. If you feel compelled to use it no matter what, don’t put 346 words on a slide that nobody can see. Worse yet, don’t read your fucking slides. If your content consists of powerpoint slides that you read to your class, just cancel the class and send them the file, and then go to H/R and turn in your resignation.
*If you miss, miss swinging. I have class activities that do not go at all according to plan. I tell the class, “Well, that sucked. My bad.” We move on. You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to be right all the time. Just don’t retreat to a two hour lecture. Keep experimenting. Every class dynamic is different. If your approach is the same for every class, Houston, we have a problem.
*Celebrate the student who challenges you. Give them candy. In a not weird way, give them a hug. Your job is to make them think. If they thought enough to disagree with you and had the comfort level to express that, you are a rock star. You get candy too.
*Get to know your students and let them know you. I strive to know as much as I possibly can about each student…their job, home life, aspirations, passions, ideals, guilty pleasures, and how they learn. Why? Because it is easier than teaching a stranger. After about two classes, they know all of those things about me. Why? Because it is easier to learn from someone you know.
*Although I told you to blow your andragogy out your ass, learn about it…..just don’t expound upon it in your class. It is the theory of adult learning. Adults learn differently than children do. In college, they are there voluntarily. They expect a return on their investment. They want to know why the content is important and what they’re going to do with it. They don’t assume everything you say is gospel. Tell them what you’re doing and why.
*Some students are dicks. Yup, I said it. They are still your customers. You still have to do your best for them. If you think most of your students are dicks…you’re probably the dick.
*Make them think and question. I’ve heard colleagues say they don’t allow essays on immigration, abortion, religion, etc. My response is “What the fuck?” The point of an essay is to challenge a position. Do you have them challenge the position of what?…. house plants? A big point of higher education is to question and explore. Your job is to keep things on the rails. If you can’t do that, shame on you.
I primarily teach composition. It is a required course. Nobody wants to take composition and nobody wants to be a professional essay writer when they grow up. I am an adjunct teaching composition at a community college. That is my qualification for authoring this rant. If I can engage my students and get them to learn, you have no excuse.
I opened with the shitty pay and such of an adjunct faculty position. If you don’t like those aspects, organize a union or quit. Don’t half ass your way through a semester. You’re doing a disservice to your customers, and you’re taking up space. In spite of how much people bitch about adjunct work, and in spite of how many shitty adjuncts there are, these jobs are still very competitive and difficult to land. If you can’t connect with your students and feel you’re not respected, learn and adapt, or get the hell out of the way. There are many passionate, talented educators waiting for their chance to actually educate.
If you can’t show up for the first class of the semester, and your school can’t notify your students in a timely manner, go work at the DMV. You’ll fit right in, and you don’t deserve to be a teacher.