I am an adjunct English professor. This semester, the school I teach for was only able to offer me one course. I also recently learned that my temporary editing job may or may not end soon. So when I heard that another local college was looking for composition instructors, I emailed. Starting next week, I will be teaching three more courses. I will have around 100 students. If I were a university professor, this would be a full-time teaching load, earning me a reasonable salary (upwards of $40,000, probably closer to $60,000 depending where) and benefits. Instead, I net just over a grand per course, spread out over the semester. I am a bargain.
Those of us who have taught composition and intro level literature courses can easily teach them backwards in heels. We know our subject matter and can whip up lectures, writing assignments, and class activities on the spot. That’s not to say there isn’t prep work– we have plenty, especially when using new textbooks or when we have to follow a school’s lesson plan. We tend to switch things up to keep things fresh, but reading assignments we’ve read many times before still must be reviewed before class so we can lead a discussion on them. But the most work comes from grading essays and commenting on drafts. A short stack of essays, especially ones that need a lot of work, can easily eat up a weekend.
I don’t slack on my teaching duties. It’s not like the students get a discount because my salary is low.
Our work doesn’t end at the end of a semester. Students ask adjuncts to write letters of recommendation, which we generally do happily. Adjuncts catch students cheating and have to follow the college or university’s policy for dealing with it, often taking several hours of the adjunct’s personal time to resolve or enforce (which we do, but not generally happily. I’m dealing with a situation from fall semester now and it’s less than fun). Adjuncts have to attend meetings and participate in department projects alongside full-time faculty. Adjuncts get emails all weekend and evenings, some that can be answered quickly, some that require reading and commenting on a draft or some other unexpected time-consuming thing. After our students are no longer our students, we get emails asking for help on papers for other classes, speech topics, and even master’s theses. We help gladly, mainly because being someone’s teacher (especially of English, I dare say) is forever. It’s every day, like being a police officer or nurse. Does a physician see someone choking in a restaurant and think “Eh, I won’t help. It’s my day off”?
So why do we do it? Why do we take on the responsibility? Why do we allow ourselves to exploited, underpaid, and under-appreciated by our institutions?
I cannot speak for all adjuncts, but having done it for 9 years and knowing many other adjuncts, I have a couple educated ideas.
Firstly, I think that we simply love to teach. We love teaching so much that we would rather teach and be broke than do something else that might earn us more money but might leave us unfulfilled. Many of us (including myself in the past) have full time jobs but teach a class or two to stay at least partially in the classroom or we might volunteer our time mentoring underserved youth or tutoring.
Another reason we continue to adjunct teach is that we can’t find other work. It could be the economy, it could be that we’ve been typecast as educators, it could be that employers fear that we are overeducated (which, ironically, might price us out of the job or might make an employer believe we’ll quit the moment anything better comes along, which makes them not want to spend the time and money hiring and training us), it could be that we appear incapable of holding down a full time job (if there aren’t any on our resumes) or it could be any combination of these factors, but job-searching is certainly a bitch out there.
For the time being, I’ll be working three jobs, but I’ll do my best to remain sane and to write.
[Book Review] Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students (yep, my students will be buying this)
Have you ever tried to read a writing guide? Did you stay awake long enough to find the page on quotation marks or dependent clauses or whatever you were looking for? Yeah, me neither. Maybe I’ve flipped through a guide or even read a paragraph or two if I’ve needed to look up a specific issue, but this is the first time I’ve ever read a writing guide all the way through. Like all of Grammar Girl’s books and posts, this guide is entertaining!
Grammar Girl, because of her training in language and in the hard sciences, understands how to explain the importance of proper usage for clarity, but she also explains that sometimes rules exist out of tradition. She also tackles grammar myths (like that ending a sentence in a preposition one). Her examples are easy to understand and fun (I especially like the section on misplaced modifiers). The quick and dirty tips and the pop quizzes throughout are very cool and quite handy. If you haven’t seen her blog or heard her podcast, I highly recommend both. She tackles big things, like commas, and minor things, like “nauseous” versus “nauseated.”
Other bonuses in the new guide include tips that perhaps were not designed specifically to help ESL learners, but would still be immensely helpful for such students. Tips like FANBOYS and ordering adjectives, for example, are things that many native speakers take for granted, but having them described simply but completely is helpful for any user of the English language.
Also included are tips for drafting and proofreading one’s own writing. Additionally, she gives tips that as a comp teacher, I’ve tried to drill into my students’ minds, like “show, don’t tell,” “avoid cliches like the plague,” and “you need to know if a website is credible.” I am so happy I have Grammar Girl to back me up on these points.
A couple of years ago, I was teaching comma rules to a technical writing class at MSOE. I was trying to explain restrictive elements and nonrestrictive elements to the class and several of the students weren’t getting it. They were frustrated and I was frustrated. One guy kept saying that in every example I gave, the elements all seemed unnecessary so they should all be offset by commas. I didn’t understand how he didn’t just SEE it. As I read the section in this book about restrictive elements and nonrestrictive elements, I realized that if I’d just explained it the way Grammar Girl did, a whole lot of headaches would have been prevented. This book is coming with me to school every day from now on so that when a grammar or usage question comes up, I can simply take Grammar Girl’s wording and examples to explain it much more succinctly than I am often able on my own. (It’s hard to come up with sentence examples on the fly, have you noticed?)
This is the best writing guide I’ve seen (and I’ve seen A LOT in my years as student and teacher). This book is fun, complete, and user-friendly, but it’s also truly inexpensive. (The hardcover list price is $20, and I’m sure that the spiral bound writing reference guides by Diana Hacker easily cost over $50 at the school bookstore). Sure, the Hacker-type guides have MLA in them (and Grammar Girl’s does not), but most students just use easybib now anyway, so it’s not like they’re going to be looking up MLA format in a book the way I did as an undergrad.
I am requiring Grammar Girl’s guide for my college composition class this fall, and I recommend it to every high school, ESL, and college writing teacher out there. Even if you don’t require it as a text, you should still have it on hand and consider putting it on your syllabus as a recommended text.
The instructions are easy: list 25 movies that say something about you, then tag the friends you think are most likely to do it, too. Also, tag the person who sent this to you.
Oh, wait, this isn’t Facebook? And the meme isn’t movies, it’s 25 random things? Oh, well, my column, my rules.
1. FIGHT CLUB (1999)
Shows my complexity—sure, I’m generally a pro-Ikea, anti-violence kinda gal, but something about Brad Pitt and Edward Norton beating the crap out of each other without shirts is, well, fine with me.
2. HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)
“That’s wonderful, Harold. Go, love some more.”
3. UHF (1989)
Shows my undying love for Al, plus my childlike whimsy. And I adore the commentary—Victoria Jackson cuts the call short because she’s making scalloped potatoes.
4. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (2007)
The Simpson family are a huge part of my life, and in the movie, Marge swears in anger and we
I wish Bruce’s name was in my secret notebook. Oops. wrong movie.
see Bart’s doodle.
5. THE JERK (1979)
The first time I laid my eyes on Steve, I knew what romantic love was and although I was only 6, I don’t think my understanding has grown all that much more sophisticated in the almost 30 years since.
6. STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006)
Did you ever imagine Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, and Queen Latifah in the same film? Me neither, but strangely, it works.
7. OFFICE SPACE (1999)
TPS reports, flair, guarding our cake, working 45 minutes a week. Yeah, it’s touched us all.
8. EDDIE IZZARD’S DRESS TO KILL (1999)
The best of all of Izzard’s standup collections, and has taught me most of what I know about teaching.
9. WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (1996)
What is a small town without a Dairy Queen? Absolutely nothing.
10. DOG PARK (1998)
“Owen” is the saddest name in the world? I guess it is, but it had never occurred to me until I saw DOG
If you don’t well up when he says “don’t die, Champ,” you have no soul.
11. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (2001)
I’ve been leery of public swimming pools since.
12. SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003)
It’s how I justify to myself my unorthodox teaching practices. I mean, at least I tie the music to the lesson plan.
13. SiCKO (2007)
If my raft made it, I wonder if a kind, generous Cuban surgeon would remove my tonsils?
14. FRENCH KISS (1995)
Makes me feel triumphant!
15. AKEELAH AND THE BEE (2006)
I saw this movie, went home, and subscribed to dictionary.com’s word of the day. If I don’t know it, I try to use it at least once that day. (The word of the day for Saturday, February 14: myopia. The Spanish word of the day: ganar).
16. SHORT CUTS (1993)
If you gotta go fishing, why not use your local fishin’ hole?
17. MARTY (1955)
Seeing this movie taught me not to take my feminism too seriously: Sometimes, we are just plenty of ripe
In 1965, she coulda painted anyone’s wagon.
18. TORTILLA SOUP (2001)
I have the crazy down pat. Now, if only I had the metabolism to keep up, I’d fit right in with those hermanas locas.
19. SAME TIME NEXT YEAR (1978)
This movie showed me that it’s still possible to have a fulfilling life, even if things don’t work out the way you planned.
20. MAGNOLIA (1999)
The number one reason I still haven’t seen THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
21. A BRONX TALE (1993)
When I like a guy, I reach over and unlock the driver’s side door. I’m a keeper.
22. THE CHAMP (1979)
In my heart, Ricky Schroeder is still that sad, sweet, tow-headed little boy, and not a Republican.
24. PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
Everyone needs a healthy fantasy life.
25. CAT BALLOU (1965)
When I was little, my parents let me watch it whenever it was the Saturday afternoon movie, even though in retrospect, I realize that hearing Jane Fonda’s voice probably made them cringe.
I knew we were in trouble when we walked in and the conference motel smelled like a Tom Waits song, or, as John said, “cigarettes and despair.” The closest coffee was two hallways and an elevator ride away.
There is absolutely no way this instructor had ever taught a tech writing seminar before. There’s no way he had written anything besides email in the past 10 years. He had never heard of any software besides Word. (His flummoxed face when John brought up Adobe Technical Suite was priceless). He had us do a cluster mapping activity, like the kind you do for brainstorming in developmental freshman composition. The PowerPoint slides were riddled with spelling errors, superfluous apostrophes, and random capitalization. But the best and most ironic error: “Proofread” was spelled “Proof Read.” Hilarity!
The instructor never asked us what we do or what kind of businesses we work for, but made sure to ask for a show of hands of those who were in management positions and who had master’s degrees. He wanted to know what he was up against, but his knowledge didn’t stop him from going on a series of anti-education tirades. His lecturing was shaky, but with ease he blasted professors. He blasted tenure. He blamed teachers for all the items on his list of disturbing (and, I suspect, completely made-up) statistics regarding graduation, shrinking vocabularies, and reading levels.
The only other times during the day that he actually seemed comfortable was when he slid into sales mode. We were subjected to quite the book pitch. Some of the items made some sense, such as books and CDs that were related to business writing, but the longest pitch was for a money management collection. He started by asking the class, “What is the number one cause of divorce?” I think the answer he was looking for was financial issues, but Jenn, without a pause, answered “Marriage.” The class erupted into joyful laughter (we were due), and the instructor had a hard time getting back to the task at hand (not teaching, of course, but selling us $100 worth of money management books on CD).
He was not pleased.
He dove into his pitch, nonetheless. It went a little bit like this:
When he wasn’t blasting educators or trying to sell us stuff, he busied himself by making a series of racist coments. I’m not sure if this was just him or if it’s a new Southern trend, but his equivalent expression to “bless their hearts” was instead “no value judgment.”
You do know what I’m talking about, right? I lived in the South for three years, and I was often charmed or disgusted (heck, sometimes impressed) by the way some people believe they can say ANYTHING about someone if it’s finished with “bless her heart.” Examples:
1. “She got caught cheating on her husband, bless her heart.”
2. “Our neighbors don’t take care of their yard and the city threatened to clean it and then send them the bill, bless their hearts.”
3. “He has a problem with the cocaine, bless his heart.”
The seminar instructor made sweeping generalizations about “Asians and Orientals” and added “no value judgment.” He made similar comments about urban youths and immigrants in general. Oh, the whole day was painful. I am not proud of the cruel way I wrote in my notebook the words he mispronouned (such as “singular” & “jargon”), but at least I didn’t correct him. (Okay, I kind of did, but it was only because there was no way around using the word “singular” in my response).
When it was memory map time, he referred to it as a Gantt chart.
Have you seen Important Things with Demitri Martin? He starts the show with introducing the Important Thing for the evening, and on his huge sketchpad he shows a cluster map of many topics related to that Important Thing. Now, I’m no chart expert– I’m not sure I’ve ever even made a Gantt chart– but I’ve always thought that a Gantt chart was used to show project progress with graphs and timespans and such. (Not at all the same thing. He was just trying to sound fancy).
The class closed with, naturally, paper airplanes:
Once a year or so, I look at my entries on Rate My Professor.com. It is not an activity for the emotionally delicate, which very well may be why I so infrequently check them. If you’ve never gone, there are symbols; a smiley face indicates good quality and a chili pepper indicates hot. Then there are rankings: easiness, helpfulness, clarity, and rater interest (I think that’s interest in the subject or the class).
I used to tell myself that I didn’t care and that these ratings meant nothing, but then stopped lying to myself: “Face it,” I told myself, “you’re a Leo.” Frankly, I have to know what people are saying about me. And it’s fascinating; I can see when I was having a rough time. I looked recently because one of my students told me after class that one of the reasons he chose my class was because of my ratings.
There are only 25 entries here, and I don’t think I could estimate (without a calculator) the number of MSOE students I’ve had. Based on this limited sample, only students who are passionate about their experience in a class bother with Rate My Professor. This wouldn’t be surprising to me five years ago, but I find it odd that it’s still that way. I mean, with all the time everyone spends on Facebook, etc., you’d think they’d venture over and fill out a five-question survey. But, no. While Rate My Professor has successfully tapped into the disgruntled and the horny student set, it has failed to attract the bored.
Most students fly through the teacher evaluations as quickly as possible without reading closely and without writing anything in the optional comments section, which kind of makes me sad because I Really Would Like to Know What They Think. That’s why I require students answer certain questions (for credit) about the course; I like to make them suggest one assignment or activity I should keep and one I should ditch the next time I teach the course.
So, stroll with me, if you will, through some of the fascinating comments pasted directly out of the site:
–The way all porfessors should be. Great instructor
–Excellent instructor. Makes the class time go by fast. Lets students be themselves and express their opinions. Highly recommend. Too bad MSOE does not hire her full time.
–Her personality is amazing. Makes a useless class interesting. Very easy on the eyes. Visit her during office hours just to chat and hang out, she is nice.
A+B=C she is a teacher that will help you out when your stuck on anything!!! Shes always there when or if you have any problems.
(Awww. After almost 10 years, it looks like I’m becoming a pretty good teacher. But keep reading).
–She does an excellent job teaching the material. While she doesn’t require you to understand everything, she gives you the material nescessary to understand the main points of the course. Her finals are simple and are to the point. She is liberal, however, she has an easy going character, so she can get along with just about anyone.
(Hmm. Well, I clearly taught him or her nothing about spelling, And is this student implying that most liberals aren’t easy going? Or should I just take the compliment and read it that I don’t have to agree with people politically to treat them with respect and kindness? I guess I’ll go with that).
–Great prof. Fun. I never thought a speech class could be fun, but she proved me wrong. Except for the day I was too hungover to lift up my head. Oh yeah it was 3 in the afternoon. That was bad.
(This is too vague for me to even begin to figure out who this might be. I love how he turned a comment that was supposed to be about me into a remark on his own problem).
–A breath of fresh air! Take for EN 131 and 132!
–Definetely recommended for any class that she teaches. Classes were never boring, and the class had minimal homework. Cool person and extremely laid back.
–Did not use the book too much. Understood that we are engineers not English majors. Very laid back and has fun in class. If you get her (and you should try) make sure to use the word moist as much as possible
(Okay . . . as one of the “get to know ya” exercises, I used to have everyone say what their favorite and least favorite words are. My version of the James Lipton thing. So I told them that I loathe the word “moist.” And they do use it. And by the way, I am trying to use the book more. I mean, they had to buy it).
Now it gets ugly . . .
–If you want a REALLY easy class, take Duvernay. If you want an easy A, not if you want to learn something. Swears a profuse amount in class.
–Worst excuse for a teacher . . . she should be fired!
Take DuVernay for every class she teachers (Comp, Tech Comp, Speech, and Humanities). Very laid back and easy teacher. Minimal homework – just the required papers. All we did in HU100 was watch movies and discuss them. I wish she taught more classes past the freshman level!
She’s so easy!!! I only did half the homework and then the project we had instead of havin a final and i got an AB in the class. Take her for an class you can.
(I would like to suggest that the student who recommends I be fired put too much stock in the previous comments but discovered that I was indeed not the easiest teacher who ever lived. I’m just sayin’).
So, that’s a big chunk, without edits. I’m happy with them overall on a personal level, but I would like future comments to say not that I made a “useless class interesting” but that I made them realize that a class they thought was useless was actually super great and useful! And I don’t think I swear profusely. I swear, sure, they are in college. They should be able to handle it.
The excitement begins on a chilly spring day . . . far, far away . . . at a nerd convention . . .
It all started a couple years ago in Toronto; Karma and I gave papers on using humor in the classroom at a conference. An editor asked us if we were interested in turning our idea into a book, and we said sure, but nothing came of it for a while. Then Karma got an email from her, asking us if we’d like to submit a proposal. So we put together a letter proposal. She liked it and asked for a table of contents and some sample chapters. We wrote. And waited. We addressed concerns. Wrote more. Then waited more. Karma called her last week to ask about it, and she responded to Karma in an email that included the sentence “we are planning to send a contract to you and Denise.”
Karma (my brilliant and amazing best friend) and I are writing a book and it will soon have a contract, which suggests it will be published. Holy frak! And the best part is that it’s on The Simpsons. It’s a book for teachers, really, on how to use the show in humanities classes, complete with activities and paper assignments. It’s quite clever, if I do say so myself. We have some stuff to hammer out, like permissions, royalties, and A TITLE would be good.
I’m full of hope. And beans. And sugar and spice. And soon, vodka. I’m hoping this high stays with me for a while. I’m so stoked on the idea of being published, and for Karma to get tenure-track. The idea of making any money off of it isn’t really in my head, but my friend Justin suggested we take it to Comic Con and the like, because, as he said:
you’re a GIRL, you have huge TITS, and you’re doing a book on the SIMPSONS
NERDS will buy your book just to be able to talk to you for a minute
And I heart Justin for many reasons, most of all that.