Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Professional Choices (Or The Lack Thereof)

A colleague shared an article ("I Am Not Alone in Wanting the Respect I Deserve. That's Not Whining.") this evening; it was a response to another article ("Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?"), written by someone who implied, or said outright, that adjuncts' complaints about the lack of full-time work, and/or their inability to get full-time work, is related to their (my) entitlement issues. It's unkind at best, as well as unkind and an oversimplification of the issues at hand.

People adjunct for a lot of reasons: Perhaps they had, or have, another carer and wish to augment their income, or they're interested in branching out, professionally speaking. Perhaps they're retired from teaching (or another career) and wish to continue working part-time because they enjoy teaching and/or working, and wish to maintain involvement and/or contribute and/or share their personal and professional experiences. And perhaps, like so many more of us, there simply isn't a full-time teaching job to be had.

Adjuncts are not paid well. I am absolutely not complaining about my job; I love teaching at a community college, and truth be told I hope to make a career out of teaching at this level. I am thrilled that I have any teaching job at all, although I find it ironic that I've found it easier to get jobs teaching at three different colleges (jobs for which I am theoretically unqualified or underqualified, given my lack of advanced degree) than teaching at the secondary level of education (something for which I have been trained and for which I maintain my teaching license).

I adjunct because I am paid better and work better hours than most retail or fast food or even in office jobs (there are always exceptions - something else that's a bit sad). I adjunct because I've had generally miserable experiences working in offices, and nearly any office job for which I would be qualified would be a job in which I am not interested, nor would it pay close to what teaching (or even subbing) pays. But mostly I adjunct because I'd rather be underpaid doing something I love than working in a job, however well paid, I hate. I refuse to believe that wanting to teach full time makes me whiny. I would like a full-time job teaching, at a single institution. A job with benefits, and one with regular hours.

I wish I could remember where I read this, but months back I read an article in which a history professor noted that he could not "in good conscience" advise his students to pursue graduate degrees (and the subject of a different rant is why "graduate degree" unilaterally means "Ph.D.").  History is, as I understand it, a very difficult field, and I could see that it might be difficult to apply a degree in history to other careers. However, the writer of this particular column ignored any teaching job that wasn't at a R1-level university. Nothing was said about smaller colleges; nothing was said about community colleges. I replied something to the effect that there are other options that history teachers might consider, such as community colleges, etc., and that perhaps not all history professors (or teachers of other subjects) were necessarily interested in R1 universities.

Another commenter replied that "though [Michelle] may not want to hear it..." before going on to agree with the writer. The other commenter noted that the thing to do was to just pick up and move to where the jobs are. My reply was that there are those who do not have that choice, something that was strenuously disagreed with, especially in the case of the other commenter, who noted that she lived thousands of miles away from her family. No mention of a spouse or school-aged children.

In both the case of the writer and the other commenter, though, this is willful ignorance. If one were interested in teaching at a large, research-centered university, I hope that if one has a spouse, that the spouse is willing and able to pick up and move - made difficult if the spouse is working and has his or her own career. I hope that if there are children involved, it's as easy as moving them. If there are elderly parents to consider, I hope that they do not need care. These extraneous issues were all entirely ignored by the other commenter. Situations must align very well in order for someone to be able to move stakes.

Perhaps the spouse is able to find employment elsewhere, and/or the new job would pay sufficiently to support the entire family. Perhaps there are no relatives that need care. And the children don't necessarily get a say in picking up and moving to another town, state, or country.  But to imply that if one wants a job then one simply moves is an oversimplification of matters at hand for many and shows an unkind disregard.

And to imply that people who adjunct should merely find other work (or stop "whining" and piece work together like so many others who don't work in academia) ignores factors that may keep adjuncts adjuncting. And, come to think of it, this mindset ignores issues those in other jobs face when it comes to low-paying jobs. "Just get another/third/fourth/fifth job" - how practical is that? How about one job that pays well enough to live on?

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