Sunday, September 18, 2011

Adjunct Faculty Conference, Part I

UVU held an adjunct faculty conference yesterday morning. I was hesitant to go for several reasons, partly because it was being held on a Saturday, partly because it started at 8:45 a.m., partly because it's a long (35-mile, 45-60-minute) drive. Attendance certainly wasn't mandatory, so I could have easily not shown up and no one would have cared; at the very least, it would have been presumed I had something else going on. (After all, it is presumed that adjuncts have other obligations outside of their part-time teaching gigs, which is often why they're adjuncts.)

Nevertheless, I decided to go, and not only because breakfast and lunch would be provided, but because there was a stipend (not a big one, but one that would pay for a tank or two of gas). Plus, if anyone's keeping track of these things, I want it to be on my record that I'm interested in professional development - which I am, actually.

My problem with many of these sorts of conferences is that they're aimed towards adjuncts who don't have a background in education, meaning the adjunct in question acquired an advanced degree or two, developed professionally outside academia, and then for whatever reason decided to adjunct. There are valid reasons for adjuncting: One might not want to teach full-time because one has a small child at home (or several small children at home); one may be a caregiver to an elderly relative; one is retired and does not want to work full-time anymore; etc. Adjuncting does offer a flexibility of schedule that is rather nice and not likely to be had when teaching, or otherwise working, full-time; and there are other obligations people need to take care of.

Those who come into adjuncting more often than not have had no formal education in teaching; they've never taken methods or other education classes; they've never student taught; they've never taken any teacher certification exams (the format and title of which, as well as passing score, can vary by state). This sort of preparation is immensely helpful when it comes to teaching at any level, and the more I teach in higher education, the more I think there should be some manner of adjunct teacher certification training.

(One gentleman with whom I spoke yesterday mentioned that he preferred lecturing; this is called running a teacher-centered classroom, instead of a student-centered classroom, and while I recognize that there are times when it's necessary to lecture, especially in math and the sciences, this is much less necessary in the field of English - which is the department for which both this gentleman and I teach.)

There is a small group of adjuncts, though, who have degrees in education, or, like me, went through a professional teacher education degree program. Although trained and certified to teach in secondary education, we wind up in higher education (again, for a variety of reasons; sometimes teachers develop professional interest in higher education; some get advanced degrees and move "up," as it were; etc.) Teaching this group of people classroom and teaching strategies as though we had never been given classroom and teaching strategies before is a bit of downer. ("Don't ask, 'Anyone have any questions?' and then not wait 10 seconds." The guy sitting next to me at yesterday morning's conference had been teaching some time and actually wrote that down. I learned that before I got to student teaching.)

That said, I'm trying to learn to keep an open mind, and learn what I can learn from teachers who have, in fact, been teaching longer than I, whether or not they have the formal background in teaching. It's the theoretical background that I already have that's missing in their training, a background I don't need to be given multiple times, that I'm wary of. It's this that makes me hesitate to go to faculty conferences like this.

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