Showing posts with label Adjuncting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adjuncting. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Two Hats in Higher Education: Adjunct Faculty & Instructional Designer

So this winter, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to write a piece for The Nexus, a publication for the Massachusetts College Personnel Association about my work as an Instructional Designer and Adjunct.  I took her up on the offer and here is an excerpt.  You can read the full article here.

The Nexus - February 2015 with an article from Lance Eaton.
"I wear two hats in higher education.  My first hat is pretty beaten up but still invaluable.  That’s my adjunct hat.  It’s a hat that I’ve dawned for some eight years and over 100 college sections.  If that math seems like it’s more the speed of a full-time instructor, you might be right.  Several years of part-time teaching included the adjunct shuffle wherein I scooted from college to college (4-5 per semester), stitching together a living.  These included community colleges, state universities, private colleges and for-profit colleges.  What can I say; I got around.  Much of that ceased when I became Coordinator of Instructional Design at North Shore Community College, my second hat.  I continue to teach courses because I still love teaching and also find that it aids me greatly in my role as instructional designer.

Connect With Us
In the adjunct hat, if there is one thing I would advocate to any part of the college to do in order for us to better help you is to make a concerted effort to connect with us.  The research shows that connecting with someone on campus is a major predictor of completion at a college and that an instructor is one of the most common people a student is likely to connect with.  Thus, it’s worth remembering that part-time faculty teach somewhere between half and two-thirds of college courses nowadays.  Fostering a strong relationship with part-time faculty provides additional layers of communication and support for the students."

Follow through for the rest of the piece in The Nexus.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thinking about Learning Part 2: Designing for Learning

In the first post, I reflected on what learning is and what it means as an individual to be a life-long learner.  In this post, I tackle what learning might mean for us as instructors and instructional designers. 

Defining learning seems like an insurmountable task.  Ultimately, we’re trying to find a definition for what is an extremely personal and contextual experience.  To me, a self-defined life-long learner, it’s like trying to define love.  There are generic definitions out there that can easily be thrown into the ring and fit some people, but I am doubtful of their ability to capture what it actually means to each and every person.

It’s worth starting with the very basics of learning in order to tackle this challenge.  Learning at its most simple and watered down form, is change.  This change can be internal (e.g. thoughts) or external (actions).  This change can be intentional such as acquiring a foreign language or unintentional such as acquiring your first language (at least early on, it is not necessarily conscious).  The change can be proactive such as training your body to endure a marathon or it can be reactive, instinctively retracting your hand when something gets too hot.  The changes can be multiple or singular in nature.  The changes could also be temporary or permanent.  When learning occurs, a change has occurred in the learner that may or may not be permanent.  The change can be formal (classroom), informal (looking something up), and coincidental (occurring without intention).  And there isn't always direct correlation between setting and experience.  That is, seeking purposeful change (going to class) could easily result in coincidental change (learning about something entirely unrelated to what you set out to learn, e.g. how much gum is under the desk you sit at).

Despite that all kinds of learning occurs in groups, learning is largely situated in the individual and the context which he or she brings to a given moment.  Learning is still an individual experience made meaningful by the individual's own frame(s).  Two people may be able to learn the same thing, but that speaks more to the common experiences (and learning) of the two humans that help them learn something new.  That is, two people in a graduate class have many shared similar experiences and are able to both learn something—not necessarily because they are part of a group per se, but because their experiences may have led them down similar paths.  For instance, they have both assimilated (to varying degrees) the skills required to show they are competent to pass high school (or acquire their GED)—which doesn’t mean they know the same skills since there is still a lot of variation of experience and learning that goes on in elementary, middle, and high school.  They have also acquired the skill sets (again, which could be very different) to acquire a bachelor’s degree.  Within all those experiences, even if they are extremely different, lie many overlapping experiences.  They have a fair share of tacit knowledge about how the system works (or rather, how they as individuals work the particular system).   Thus when they both learn something, they may have learned it and assimilate different things.  That learning experience (change) exists individually in both of them, not mutually.  Another way to think of this is the following.  If John and Jane both learn that 2+2=4, they each hold that model in their own head, able to reproduce it without the other person present or invovled.  They learned it individually in their minds, even if they were both physically present.  Actual group knowledge would seem to only be capable of existing if telepathy were possible. 

This is where teaching gets tricky.  Because we're teaching to many individuals, but we're often referring to them and thinking of them as a group.  We refer to them in their entirety instead (the class, the course, "them") instead of individually.  While inevitably some reader will say, "that's not true, I think of my students as individuals," our means of referring to them are as a group and we often shape the class around managing, guiding, and facilitating the group.  Occasionally, we defer to the individual (e.g. student-teacher conferences) but that's the exception to the semester engagement, not the rule (unless it's an independent study).  

Given the multiple facets of learning--some which are objective and some of which are subjective--it remains a challenge to capture it and to plan for it in any legitimate sense, but only superficially.  It reminds me of what a Professor Michael Drout, said about writing and audience.  One cannot really write for his or her "audience," if the audience is more than a handful of people because it is impossible to hold those individuals within the mind while crafting.  Crafting learning experiences tend to be the same way.  We can try to craft for the group, but ultimately, we can't craft a learning experience that fits right with all the nuances of any individual (This is part of why adaptive learning programs are all the hype because they--in very limited capacities right now--hone into the individual learner, recognizing--or at least trying to--that he or she has a specific context and experience).  

Shaping learning experiences beyond the individual is extremely limiting and complicated.  And yes, many instructors are successful at it, but nearly all of them can pinpoint or identify a class that it just didn't work out.  Something didn't click.  

All of this is posited even before opening the Pandora’s box of learning styles, types, modes, modalities or whatever other buzz word we want to throw in there.  Therefore, all elements of learning can affect the instructional process, but in all likelihood, only a  fraction of said elements are going to be acknowledged, never mind addressed in teaching.  That learning still occurs speaks more to the adaptability and learning dynamics of the learners more than the purposeful practice of the instructors.  That may sound like a harsh judgment of instructors and instructional designers but it has more to do with the systems in which they are placed to create the best learning experience, despite a range of variables that must contend with, making them akin to meteorologists, accountable for the weather when all they are trying to do is predict outcomes when there is so much to account for.  Because in the end, instructors and instructional designers are assigned to create or help create learning experiences that are for a large audience (bigger than a handful of people) and not a singular person. 

This is not to say it's a lost cause, but it is one that I think we're currently flailing with.  At the college level, we complicate an individual's learning in many unnecessary ways.  For example, many of us dictate the terms of learning to the student without taking into consideration who the students are (except at a very superficial level).  We often say that it is the student's responsibility and if things don't match up, then it's the student's responsibility to change classes.  Of course, we ignore that most instructors wait until the last possible moment (the first day of class) to share anything more about the course than the generic course description.  Thus, after the student has arranged his or her schedule to make sense, the student is left either trying to re-arrange his or her schedule again at the last minute or deal with the class even if it doesn't fit.  That doesn't sound like we're setting the student up for learning but for failure.  Why put such unnecessary obstacles in students way?

There are ways we can find to individualize the course without detracting the from the quality.  In the end, this is probably going to mean a bit more work in terms of how we craft our courses, but it's also going to mean a better reward in terms of student success.  If we continue to craft for the group and not for the individual learning, we're going to continue to be challenged by other nontraditional forms of education that have recognized this and are impacting education.  

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Letter to the Editor - Chronicle of Higher Education

To the Editor:

Perry Glasser is right: no teaching career was promised to Joshua A. Boldt ("Who's to Blame? The Adjunct?" The Chronicle, April 1). But Mr. Glasser's approach is rather disappointing.
"The fact that 70 percent of all sections are being taught by underpaid adjuncts may be a shame and is undoubtedly exploitive, but it is no secret," he writes. But what Mr. Boldt's Adjunct Project attempts to reveal is the depth and variation of that exploitation. Changing exploitative conditions starts with quantifying what the conditions are.

For the rest of the letter, click through here.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On the Death of a Student

I like to think that I’m not easily shocked but that’s just what I like to think.  The reality is that when blindly struck, I’m just as much at a loss as anyone else.  Reading the email that informed me of the passing away of a student sucked the breath out of me, today.  I’ll avoid further clichés, but it hit hard to say the least.  What follows is my process.  I’m not looking for sympathy; I’m not trying to make this about me.  I’m processing and found this to be the means by which I could do it and also serve a higher purpose of maybe opening up dialogue with other educators now or in the future that must grapple with such sad events.

He was an older student, a vet, and finishing up his education before moving on to new opportunities.   He was a student with whom I had enjoyed several conversations with before and after the class.  I appreciated his engagement with the course, but also with life altogether.  He had opinions and he liked to challenge me, his peers, and himself.  He was the student you could count on to engage in the class discussions, even when he might not have done all the readings.  I enjoyed his presence, attention, and respect in the classroom and beyond.    He is not the first student I’ve had in class pass away, but he is the one I’ve felt deepest.  Largely because I had connected with him and saw someone taking control of his life.  He was the epitome of the types of students we serve at our school.

Before Class

 He was also a student whom I was to have in a class later today.  The communication of his passing and the realization of why his seat would be vacant left a giant pit in my stomach.  The shock of his death hit me but I can at least abstractly understand and accept death.  However, as an instructor, more is asked of me than just acknowledging it.  I had to consider how to handle it within class.  Mention it?  Don't mention it?  If so, at the beginning or end?  How much to tell (of what little I knew) and what might be invading the respect for his passing (of which I continually grappled with even writing this post)?  What do I say and how do I respect all parties (myself, his memory, his family, the school, and the students) involved?

The classroom is a community and I am one of its leaders (not often the only one, but a major one to say the least).  It seems clear to at least acknowledge his death.  He was a part of this community and connected to all of us.  But how much to engage my students with the event?  It’s a challenging question. I battle with it, because regardless of how others relate or understand his passing, within the confines of that classroom, he was a presence.  It’s funny, when you take attendance and recognize if only by a check mark the presence of each and every person in a room, that also means you acknowledge their absence.

After Class

Hard.  I knew it would be, but there were five moments that struck hardest.

I always arrive early to class by 10-20 minutes.  It gives me opportunity to interact and chat with my students.  They are a mixture of students from different backgrounds and at different stages in their academics and their lives.  They share their thoughts and experiences (even book and movie recommendations) and sometimes, their excitement or moans about the reading for that day.  This is part of that community we’ve formed and a part that was this student missing from today.  So when we began talking and enjoying a bit of camaraderie over some silly situation or joke, I caught myself laughing.  And what happens so often, several thoughts hit at once in some form of inner monologue.  Thought #1:  It’s a sad occasion, you shouldn’t be laughing.  Thought #2:  He is the type of person who would want people enjoying themselves, not lamenting.  Thought #3:  You should tell them now.  Thought #4:  Just cancel class, you can’t handle this today.  Thought #5:  They won’t care or it will wash off them 5 minutes after they leave class so why bother.  I’m sure there were several more—these are only the ones I remember.

The second moment was harsher and perhaps surreal like I’d been momentarily transported into a Stalinist fantasy.  I log attendance through the school’s learning management system on the computer.  As I brought up the attendance to mark students as present, his name had already been removed.  I know that the school may have heard the day before and only informed me of it earlier this day, but it felt like within hours, he had been erased from our collegiate memory.  This struck chords of anger mixed with further sadness. There is no reason for him to be listed still but his silent withdrawal from my roster was irking.  I suppose if I did attendance in a book, drawing the line through his name—through his row—would be just as emotionally perplexing.

Throughout the class, I found echoes of sadness and I know that my form suffered significantly (that is not to say I was concerned with my presentation, but I could palpably feel it wearing on me and keeping me from fully engaging my students with the energy I usually maintain).  I rolled towards the end of class (after talking with a few dear colleagues, this sounded as the most appropriate time to talk about it).  But transitions (of which I have never been good) of this sort are frazzling for anyone.

To be truthful, I feel like I failed them.  I feel like I should have been able to prime them, inform them, and possibly help them wax philosophical about the meanings this may or may not have in their own lives.  Not necessarily something grand, but give them something more than just telling them, “I was informed by the school that your classmate died on Saturday.”  I felt like I did early on when I was teaching:  I gave them information, but not sufficient context and meaning.  I don’t even know that I could do so, but I really wished I did.

This only led to the fourth hard moment.  As I finished and was rather at a loss of what to say, I saw the mixture of impact.  Frowns, looks of indifference, looks of surprise and within all of it, some frantic looks.  We as a community had entered into uncertain space.  After all, we were a community of learners and this was not in the syllabus.  How do we manage grief or unexpected emotions in environments that we’re not used to dealing with such emotions?   We often seek escape to a place where it is safe to feel or experience such emotions—less vulnerable places.

The awkward silence hung a bit and I realized there was no place for this to go.  Though in hindsight, I wonder if the awkward silence needed to hang until they filled it, not me.  Instead, I told them they could go if they wanted or stay and talk.  None took me up on the offer.  They largely exited the room faster than normal—no lingerers to engage me as usually happens.

Within 30 seconds, I was left with an empty class; the final hard moment of the experience.

Again, the language I’m using here is not to imply I’m beating myself up.  I’m deliberating and pondering.  I’m trying to make meaning of my experience and engage with others or prepare others for such challenges.  We instructors are so often engaged talking about the mundane frustrations of our classes (quality of writing, students’ dispositions, and student behavior).  It seems like tragedy is the only time we engage with these issues, which seems to be the worse times to try to figure such things out.  I hope that by opening this up dialogue, others will be more prepared or feel more supported when such things happen.

Your thoughts, your stories, your processes and anything else are welcomed.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A New Direction (and Update)

Greetings and salutations one and all.

So it's 6 months since last we met and many of you have faded off into the sunset--for good reasons.  A blog doesn't live on lack of posts.  But much has been changed over the course of the last 6 months and clearly this blog is taking on a new direction (Not to be confused with EC Comics' New Direction).

So what is this new direction(s)?  Well, I am no longer a hitch-hiking adjunct (or rather not as much).  In the fall, I interviewed for and started my new position as Coordinator of Instructional Design at North Shore Community College.  This means that I have "largely" reduced to just teaching at 3 schools (soon to be 2--all for good reasons) and I've started work on my 3rd Master's Degree (what a nerd!).  Ok--that's a lot of shuffling and I can break it down.  I got the new position (yay) and quite most of my teaching gigs to the capacity that I was teaching them (6-8 courses per semester).  Because teaching 6-8 courses is really like 2-3 jobs (calculating transporting time, grading, prepping for 4-5 different classes, etc), meant that downgrading to 1 full time job is awesome, but clearly, not going to keep me fully engaged.  Additionally, a Master's Degree that aligns with my job a bit more directly than the other two masters I have is a great idea (or so I'm told-hahaha).  Thus, even with teaching a handful of classes (3 online, 1 face to face) and working full time, starting the Masters Program actually works fine (plus, I'm only taking 1 course for starters).  Despite all of this, life has slowed tremendously (and wonderfully).

Thus, I find myself looking at this blog and still wanting to maintain it, but realizing that "Hitchhiking Adjunct" doesn't work so much any more (A moment of silence for its passing).  I still want to use this as a means of reaching out to my students as I still fully intend to teach.  But I also want it to flesh out ideas and hopefully with some of the downtime now, I can seek more opportunities to develop my writing and get out those books that are percolating in my head.

So what does this new direction look like?  Probably much like the old (though more frequent posts, yes?).  I'm still engaging in popular culture, education, technology, politics, environmental thoughts, and the world around me.  While I'm not longer blogging as a Freeway Flyer, I am now also blogging regular for the North Shore Community College's Learning, Education, Technology and Support Blog (LETS Blog), which I will likely repost regularly here too.

I hope--whatever readers are still around or come back or arrive anew, will engage with me, challenge me, and share your own thoughts about what I might ramble about here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Freeway Flyer Blog

How Come Everyone’s Talkin’ Smack About Adjuncts?

I have a request for the great wide Internet.  Please stop talking about me as if I’m some partially-crippled frenzied zombie.  I am not an invalid.  I am not incompetent. I am not ready to self-destruct.  Maybe I should blame myself for using the Google Alerts for letting me know when the Internet is talking about “adjuncts.”  I just know that I read a lot of negative press about adjuncts from full-timers, administration, other part-timers, and culture at large.  Sure, there’s the token appreciation from all the segments, but whether discussing us in positive terms or negative, the basis of the discussions is not necessarily something this Freeway Flyer finds useful.

For the rest, check out AdjunctNation.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Freeway Flyer Blog Post

Taking Classes At The Last Minute: The FreewayFlyer Forte

Some friends often knock me for constantly checking my email, but the habit isn’t born of bad manners; it’s a necessity for Freeway Flyers. Opportunity knocks via every email.  Most recently, that fact was reinforced when I received an email from a department chair looking to staff a course at the lat minute—last minute as in the email was sent out mid-Monday and the class started Tuesday evening.  Sound familiar fellow Freeway Flyers? If I weren’t so obsessive about checking my email, I might missed the opportunity.  As a freeway flyer, we live and thrive by making sure we’re connected.

Read the rest at Adjunct Nation.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Freeway Flyers Blog Post

Unions Don’t Always Go Hand-in-Hand

Of late, I’m feeling like Jurgis; the protagonist of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  Of course, my situation (as of right now) is not as dire, but the sentiment and issues still seem to be percolating.

The concern over adjunct faculty and their place within higher education has certainly gotten attention over the last two months.  While the Boston Globe dedicates a full article, The Nation certainly talks about (or at least around) the subject.  Meanwhile both The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed continue to make mention of and discuss some of the concerns of the ever-growing adjunct faculty nation in Academe.  Meanwhile, adjunct faculty are voicing their own outright opposition to the status quo in hopes of creating a solidarity movement across campuses and secure rights for adjunct faculty who are largely left in some rather Kafkaesque situations.

To read the full article, check it out here at Adjunct Nation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Freeway Flyer Blog Post

Scheduling Classes and Learning to Cry on the Inside

“I’m sorry, I can’t teach that class.”  Now, I say this in a calm and mature tone.  But in my head, I’m screaming, kicking, and pouting like the five-year-old I know. I really am.  Recently, I was offered the chance to teach a course at a college I hadn’t taught at yet.  It was not the standard introductory course many adjuncts are stuck with after full-time faculty choose the crème-de-la-crème; it was one within my specialty.

For the rest of this blog, check out this Adjunct Nation.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Freeway Flyer Blog Post

Digitalizing the Freeway Flyer

Recently, I listened to the audiobook of Chris Anderson’s “Free:  The Future of Radical Price” for free.  The premise is that behind the digital revolution is the mass amplification of cheap goods and services to be offered will increase and what people will get is the most basic model; if they want a more specialized version, they will have to pay.  Anderson expands upon this in a variety of ways, but that’s the gist.   This has me thinking about the uses and benefits of digital freebies as it relates to the classroom and the Freeway Flyer.

Too read more, check out the full post here!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Freeway Flyer Post

Synchronizing Technology, Classrooms, and Material

Frequent Flyer adjuncts can feel like their life consists of repeatedly having to bring the mountain to the people.  Synchronizing information, technology, material, and communication across multiple schools can be next to impossible since most schools have no interest in doing so, thus Frequent Flyers are left to their own devices for maximizing their resources to reduce the amount of redundancy in their world.  But in the digital age, adjuncting can be much easier.

Copier technology has become a god-send and all those copies I used to have labor to make (fighting off other faculty tooth and nail for the copier) and lug about from campus to campus are bygone days.  Many of the new copies allow you to scan to email.  They operate as mass scanners in which you can turn those handouts into PDFs and put them online.  Nowadays, I hand out the syllabus at the beginning of the semester and all other material can be gotten online.

Get the rest of the article at:  Adjunct Nation's Freeway Flyer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Freeway Flyer Blog: Semester Success Story

It began with my Contemporary Affairs teacher in high school.  He was a copier.  His classroom and office were fire-hazards filled with 3-4 foot tall stacks of photocopied articles that he would share with his students.  In all of his classes, no one would escape a minimum of 5 handouts a class (there was no textbook; just handouts).  By the end of the year, I had hundreds of interesting articles.  But let’s face it, that approach is not sustainable and time consuming.  But with that in mind, last spring, I started up a blog that I would use for teaching.

For the rest of this article, check out: Adjunct Nation's Freeway Flyer.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adjunct Nation Post: Student Emails Can Drive You Crazy

“yo prof what’s homework for today  —me”  (typical email received 10 minutes before class at least five times per semester from different students)

Email is the great communication tool and the giant headache for the Freeway Flyer. More so than other adjuncts, we end up with having to juggle email at multiple schools and have more students, on average, to respond to. Keeping it all together requires a little bit of organization ahead of time to maximize your time spent throughout the semester. I’ve developed several strategies for coping and they include the obvious: clear communication and redundancy/repetition.

When it comes to email, I insist on students...


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Supporting the Adjunct Addiction

I don’t want to call it an addiction; because honestly, I can walk away whenever I want.  But I realized that to support my predilection for adjuncting full time, I’ve assembled a range of jobs that help me keep doing what I enjoy.  In other words, I have jobs that help support my full-time job.  Granted, I’m not in the stuck in the situation of those full-time Wal-Mart employees who still qualify discounted state-funded healthcare, but I do find that in order to keep everything flowing smoothly, I hold onto several other jobs and am constantly keeping an eye on potential jobs to fill the gaps (for both current teaching and non-teaching gigs).  But really, I can walk away whenever I want.  

In total, I am employed by 10 places (5 colleges; 1 residential program, 4 publications).  Over several years, I’ve synergized my various skills, interests, and goals so that my jobs overlap or help one another.  For instance, some of my writing includes reviewing audiobooks.  The reviews themselves aren’t necessarily taxing but listening to 6-12 hour audiobooks could be.  Therefore, I often listen while commuting to the various colleges I teach at or when doing chores around the house and usually cover 2-3 audiobooks a week.  I work overnight at the residential program 2 nights a week, which may sound crazy, but the situation allows me to grade papers, prep and correspond with students via email since I have to stay awake and keep myself entertained for some 7 hours.  Ok, I can be a little sleep deprived at times, but I can still perfectly function and nobody notices…mostly. 

External jobs can offer a variety of things that can help and support your primary goals as a full-time adjunct.  They can provide you with benefits; the overnight job gives me my health insurance.  They can provide one with more diverse experience to further expand one’s CV and other opportunities.  Along those lines, they also provide “real world” experience to temper one’s pedagogical experience.  They can serve as financial padding when the course load is a bit too light.   They can provide a larger network of people including potential guest lecturers to bring into the classroom.  They can be a much needed source of relief and distraction from the demands of adjuncting.    So frankly, it’s better that I keep doing what I’m doing.  I’m better that way. 

The key is to blend interests, opportunities for double-dipping, and maximizing unused time to make it all fit.   In the short run, one may have to take a few jobs that were less desirable, stressful, and taxing, but in taking the long view, one can strategically shift into those positions that not only help to support the full-time adjuncting, but also, can be enjoyable in their own right.  That’s right; I make it look easy and enjoyable so that no one knows about my predilection.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Freeway Flyer: Dead Time: Making The Most of It

The following is an excerpt from another blog I run on

While time management is a challenge for everyone, for Frequent Flyers, it’s particularly vexing as we dart from campus-to-campus, classroom-to-classroom, leaving trails of ungraded (or graded) papers in our wakes. There are two major types of “dead time” that I contend with, and I suspect you do, as well.

The Commute:  Whether on foot, bike, bus, or car, an awful lot of our time is consumed with transporting ourselves. Some days, I hit three different campuses in three different cities (and sometimes three different counties). This balancing act of classes and commuting is central to the formula we create in deciding our course loads at the various schools each semester. But commuting can swallow up a good deal of vital time.  So how to maximize that time?


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freeway Flyer: Full-Time Adjuncts—The Spinster Aunts of Academe

The following is an excerpt from another blog I run on

The question has all the hallmarks of: “When are you going to settle down and have kids?” It implies that I’m not legitimate, or that my personal goals should be what the person projects for me. The question is this: “When are you going to get a tenure-line position?” Apparently, full-time/part-time adjuncts are the unmarried spinster aunts of Academe—looked upon with a degree of pity and always with the lurking suspicion: “How come she can’t snag a hubby?”

Here’s my truth: I have very little interest in a tenure-line college gig. As I’ve continued to develop my craft, expanded the range of courses taught, and have had a good deal of conversations with colleagues at the five colleges and universities that I teach at, I’ve finally become convinced that I am, indeed, exactly where someone with my ambitions and academic qualifications should be.

A tenure-line job is just not what I want.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beyond the Class; Or What I Hope They Take From My Course

Regardless of the topic, there's much I wish for my students to take from my course and it's in reflecting through my own instructors that I realized where these urges originate.  I have had a great deal of fantastic instructors, mentors, and colleagues (some of whom were instructors and mentors at one point) that have taught me so many things beyond the specific content of their course and so many of those lessons I hope in some way to instill with my students in whatever way I can (and preferably relevant to course material).  Here are some of those that come to mind.

Be active; not passive with life  

It's the "Carpe Diem" approach that remains so present in my mind from my sophomore year of high school when Mr. Marshall showed us Dead Poet's Society.  Life moves quickly and there is so much one can do with it.  Don't waste it.  Like I say in a great deal of my courses; if you have made it to the college, you have surpassed the education and opportunities of billions of people on this Earth--do something with those opportunities.  You should be challenged and engaged with life; not idyl.  There's much to this world waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.  Maybe a better way of stating this is to be conscious of your life and what you're doing with it. 

Words matter

Whether you're deciding how to word a criticism towards your friend ("That sweater doesn't suit you" = That sweater is damn ugly!) or how you word your final essay; how you say it is as important as what you say.  We are shaped by language and that can be problematic in many ways, but the important lesson is to remember that words have meaning and subtley.  Be conscious

Education is more than a grade

If high school was about passing; college should be about growing.  The classes in which I learned the most were the ones that I sometimes did the worse in or had the most to learn.  The grade for obvious reasons is important; but the focus should be on the process and consideration of learning (and deliberating on whether you are open to learning or just getting a degree; the difference could be between succeeding in both internal and external ways or barely making it). 

Help is not a bad thing. 

We learn at different rates; we need different approaches to learning; asking/receiving help is a good way of attaining those things we are having trouble getting.  Don't sacrifice help for pride, fear, or some other thought that claims help is a bad thing.  No one makes it without some form of help.

Failure is a significant part of the learning process

An extension of the previous one for certain.  We often learn best from our failures.  Whether that is getting a question wrong in class discussion, doing poorly on a quiz, or failing a course.  Failure can be good learning process if you take the time to consider how/why things went wrong and pay close attention to where you (or the situation itself) may have gone astray.  If we all quit the first time, we fell off our bikes, no one would learn how to ride a bike. 

Meeting the bare minimum is not way to go through life

Some students make the comment, "I just want to pass this course."  Regardless of the course, the bare minimum of passing seems problematic for several different reasons.  The first is that, this is your education--you pay for it with money and time (time in the class; homework; commuting to the school, etc).  Do you want to approach your education as "Just enough to pass"?  Equally problematic is that, while a bachelor degree is important to your overall work potential; more and more, they are not signficant enough to open that many doors.  Competition for jobs gets increasingly tougher and fair grades simply won't cut it.  You need to be committed to college; not just there to get through it.

Have direction in life, but realize you're using a map and the final destination may often need updating. 

This one's simple.  Make plans, but be prepared for them to change.  The plan will help you focus; being prepared for change will allow you to adapt more easily.  The world is changing at a rapid pace in a variety of ways; it will not always act in the way you expect.

Whatever the course; there is something redeeming and relevant to take from it.

If I responded to students who said "I hate history" with "I hate students who hate history," needless to say, I would see massive flight from my class if not some panic-striken faces.  I don't (and other faculty don't) expect love of our subject matter, but often you are there as part of a larger purpose (such as a Bachelor's Degree) and therefore, this course you're in is part of that and has something to offer.  Often a student's reluctance (I hate subject X.  I can't do subject Y) are the biggest obstacle to doing well in the course--not the course itself. 

Reflect; often and thoroughly.

If you can't articulate "Why" you like something; then you might want to take a step back.  We're told so often of what we're supposed to be, to enjoy, to like, to aim for.  But if we can't find substantial reasons for why, then we're not acting of our own volition but are being directed by others and usually those "others" don't have our interest in mind (P.S.  "Because others are doing it" is not a valid reason either).

Every choice we make is political. 

Springing from the one above, realize that so much of what we do is part of a large world system in which we are connected in thousands of ways to people all over the world.  As people who live on the high end of the economic scale (and if your in college; that most usually true), our choices with regards to clothing, food, material goods, cellphone providers, marriage, childrearing, etc all have political ramifications that ripple throughout the world.  This can be exhausting and many would rather stick their head in the sand, but it's learning this and being a more conscious decision maker that may make the difference between our own success and demise.

It's not about knowing the answers; it's about asking the right questions.

I tend to be of the camp that the more I learn; the less I know.  However, conversely, I get better at asking the right questions and unravelling the messages behind the message.  So much of life is about decoding the signs and realizing the signs are rarely fixed; therefore, so long as you continue to question, challenge, press forward, you're in a better situation than just assuming you "know" it.   

College is more than just class.

If your thought of school is simply going to classes and getting a degree; you're missing out on half your education.  The various programs, groups, clubs, activities, events, etc at the school are there for you to benefit from in both direct and indirect ways.  If you don't leave college without expanding your professional network by some 50+ people, you've wasted a good deal of your time.  Going to college is engaging in a variety of events and meeting people (besides dates for Friday night--as important as those are). 

Talk to your instructors; soon and often.  

We're not mind readers and more often than not, we're actually real people with genuine interests and concern for our students.

El Fin De Semester

There are some things that come bittersweet; no matter how many times you experience them.  For me, that is the end of the semester.  Each semester, we start off in a slow shuffle as students and instructor figure out the rhythms of each other and decide if to stick it through and finish this dance or part ways somewhere along the way (sometimes willingly and sometimes reluctantly).  But somewhere after midterms (and in particular in the Spring, after Spring Break), we shift gears are find ourselves hurtling towards the end of the semester; want it to "be over with" and finally have time to breath.  Instructors feel it too.  Remember that when your semester ends by taking or passing in that final; the instructor switches from wrapping up the class into an overdrive marathon of grading finals and calculating grades with often very short turnover to submit grades. 

It's a flustering time and many instructors like myself run through their minds to figure out if they've covered all they could possibly cover; did they communicate everything as effective as possible; are ready for the onslaught of papers, and often, how to communicate those things that any teacher feels the need to communicate to their students regardless of the course (and this is totally projection here, but I'll take that risk--See other post).

But it can be sad.  In many classes, the rhythm has been established, the growth in students is palpable, and you even seen genuine interest in the topic (something that can be hard with some courses like World History).  And within the last 4-5 classes; that too starts to fall apart since students begin preparations for departure.  They use up their absences; they skip homework readings; their impatience shows.  In fact, it's much like the last five minutes of any class; those students wanting the most quickest departure start packing their things away including their notebooks, pens, etc (Yes, it's obvious from the instructor's side; and not in a good way). 

Students sometimes are so quick to look to the end of the semester that they miss the course in a great many ways.  They are thinking about the ride home from the movie theater rather than engaging in the climax of the film.  I only hope their fixation on the ride home isn't so strong that in leaving the theater, they realize they have to revisit the movie at a later date having little recall or proof that they actually processed what they took part in. 

The semester comes to an end in a jumbling mix of trying to prepare students for the final assignment which may or may not be cumulative and addressing the final pleas of students whose grades teeter in directions they would rather not see them go. 

It's amazing how quickly it ends.  In a given semester, we spend 40+ hours together; engaged in class discussion, corresponding through email; circulating comments through papers and revisions and then it's over.  Some of my students I never see again.  Others, I randomly run into and yet, others stick around.  They take other courses with me (those lil sadomasochists!); they correspond with me via email; or drop by my class or office at some point.  Moments many instructors enjoy greatly. 

And yet, I too breathe a sigh of relief at semester's end.  It's been a race for myself as well.  However, I also feel a sense of vindication in that I have completed another semester of (hopefully) successful dialogue about things that I feel (somewhat) knowledgeable of and can help impart that upon my students. 

I guess it's evident that this comes at the end of another semester; one I feel that went rather well overall.  Hence the pleasure and reluctance.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Finding the Point

So as you can tell by my first two posts, I’ve been toiling away and thinking about what I’m going to do here in this ole blog of mine.  I had lots of trouble finding a focus and angle with which to engage in this form but I had the light-bulb flickering today of how to go about this.  I realized that the best way for me to organize or focus my thoughts within this blog would be to think about who would be served best with my ramblings.  Well, who has been served best (ok, that’s a big claim) by my ramblings in the past.  My students, of course.  That is, semester after semester there is ample material that I come across in which I think could be useful in any of the various courses that I teach and here would be an excellent opportunity to keep track of them and allow for asynchronous discussion from the different vantage points.

Here’s what I’m imagining; though have no clue if it will ever be this good.  As I come across articles, ideas, thoughts, and relevant material that I think is worth mention but also discussing, I will include in here.  But, by assigning different tags (comics, history, literature, etc), I will also categorize it for future use.  At the end of each segment, I plan on asking questions directed at the different courses/subject areas that the article might be applicable to. 

What I foresee and hope for the project is an ongoing discussion with students of different times (both with me and with each other over a singular semester and beyond) as new students enter, others exist, and still some linger around because it’s a good conversation.  In a lot of ways, this corresponds to my ever-evolving philosophy of teaching.  I tend to see my “role” as a college-instructor as symbiotic, gaining a great deal of material, ideas, and inspiration from my students and hopefully, that is reciprocated and will continue to be so beyond just the standard classroom setting.  I’m invested in my students’ intellectual development and want to provide opportunities for them further engage and benefit from my experience, knowledge, and resources.  I think this forum will significantly help me reach those goals in new ways. 

Well, I feel good; I feel like I’ve found my place and can surge ahead in my discussion and purpose. 

Of course, this sounds either really interesting to my non-existent (or not yet fully formed) readership or just redundant/irrelevant to those future students who are subject to scouring this blog for material to discuss.  To the former, I have nothing to say since you’re nonexistent.  To the latter, I simply say, this should be familiar to you; you know, me rambling on, trying to make sense of things.  Share and enjoy. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Greetings and Salutations: Or, Why I Think the Slogan Works

Welcome to this new blog.  I would love to have a solid and clear mission statement here that was inspiring and cause you, the dear reader, to be awed and moved and ready to RSS this thing in every way possible.  But it’s not likely.

The slogan I’ve come to decide upon with this blog is:

The Hitchhiking Adjunct:  Taking a ride into whatever direction opportunities and life takes me.

I like it, because it accurately represents me in so many ways.  As a full-time adjunct, I am among the nomadic tribes of college educators who go everywhere but settle nowhere.  I say that not negatively, but rather compellingly because for me, that’s part of the beauty and reality of my life or just life in general.  Us, “humans” are a pesky lot that strive for permanence in a universe where no such thing exists.  To be in flux is what life is and being an adjunct, merely an accent upon it all.  I know, I’m probably a bit too philosophical about it, but it works for me.

The slogan seems also appropriate since it does indeed represent my versatile interests.  I follow where the wind takes me.  And by wind, I mean my interests.  Indeed, they’ve taken me far.  My father and I still joke that while he thought I was wasting my time reading comics as a kid, I have managed to get paid at several schools to teach courses on comics or in other college courses use my knowledge of comics and introduced them into the class.

Anyhow, I’ll keep this short and save the more verbose and tedious entries for the future.  Thanks for coming.