We Want You — But Only Part-Time
A few weeks passed and I was just flat as a pancake. I had no idea what to do. I had no non-academic job prospects except my part-time/fill-in DJ position at a local radio station, my academic career was six feet under and I felt like I had made a big mistake in choosing this career path. One morning, I was sitting at my desk, looking at job notices and pondering the futility of it all, when the phone rang. It was the same division dean at the community college who so cheerfully rejected me for the teaching job. She wanted to know if I was interested in teaching part-time as an adjunct. When I asked why they wanted to hire me for part-time work when they just hired someone else for a full-time position, she said that the candidate they offered the position to backed out at the last-minute. And before I could even interject a, “Well, why don’t you offer me the position” she said, “We’re starting the search over. You’re welcome to re-apply, but in the meantime, we’re looking to fill a couple of classes.” I had nothing else, so I took the job — which started in late August in 2001.
September 11, 2001. That was the day I learned more about Islamic fundamentalism than I ever thought I would want to. Class was scheduled for the 12th, and I prepped for what I knew was going to be a roomful of people who were angry, wanted to know why this happened, who did it, and what would happen next. As I expected, it was all those things…and more. Both classes were a mix of volatile people who had a lot of blood lust, and here I was at the center trying to inform rather than incite. I launched into a history of the U.S. relationship with the Mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and how Osama bin Laden was involved in repelling the Soviet occupation and later saw “The West” broadly defined as the enemy. That’s a simple recap of what I said, but I wanted them to know that the person who was involved in the attack was once an ally of the U.S. Politics is often the story of shifting lines when it comes to allies and enemies, and I wanted to impress upon them that what they were going to hear from 24 hour cable channels was far more narrow than the long history of what led up to this attack.
After that class, whatever doubts I had as an educator, were gone. I had turned a corner on my abilities and realized that I had the knowledge base to really dig deep about political issues and present them in a way that 18-22 year olds could understand and respond to.
For the next three and a half years, I was a part-time college teacher who worked weekends and fill-in at a local radio station playing Adult Contemporary music. That was my career: part-time. Something had to change because doing what I was doing on the teaching side was gratifying when I connected with students and helped them learn and care about politics, but we were still horribly broke, and losing economic ground.
One day, Julie came home with bad news. Her employee contribution to health benefits at her job was going up and we weren’t going to make ends meet with me as a part-time teacher, part-time radio announcer. I told her I’d look for other work and give up on what I was doing since it wasn’t leading to anything. In case you don’t know, when you teach part-time, you don’t get any benefits (unless you teach a certain number of courses at a school), there are small increases in your hourly rate, but keep in mind that you’re only paid for class time. If you have a three unit class, then you’re only paid for three hours a week. All that prep, grading, and administrative stuff that goes into your class? The college or university doesn’t pay for that. I generally taught two classes a semester, which translates to six hours a week I was paid by the college or university. Also, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be hired the next semester. Around mid-semester, you have to go to the dean or department chair with cap in hand to see if they need you to teach classes in the future. If your teaching evaluations are good, you didn’t piss off The Powers That Be, and they have availability, then you’ll probably be in the running for a class or two.
It’s a sucky state of affairs. Tenure-track professors work hard, are paid a livable salary, have good benefits and are generally treated like the professionals they are. Adjuncts? They are indentured servants with no power and very little self-worth the longer they teach at this level. I had to get out. I had to “find something else.” But what? I didn’t know. I just knew I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing for much longer.