Why don’t I hate being an Adjunct?

Schools & Ecosystems introduces a new contributor to our blog, Dr. Michael Hicks. I first met Mike at an EWA conference back in 2011.* He struck me then and since with his unique ability to articulate a philosophical perspective with an urgent sense of wryness. Without further ado . . . –Mark Anderson


Shouldn’t I be angry, annoyed, and definitely starving by now?*

 My current twitter profile begins with this descriptive sentence: “Tyro Adjunct Prof.…”

 No one has said it, but I can feel the collective stares of virtual scholars and doc candidates throughout the twittersphere:

 “Why would he display his adjunct status?”

“What’s his REAL job? – there are only 16 full time adjuncts in the world!”

“What the heck is ‘tyro’?”

Well, I prayed for a teaching position and got one.  Thank you, Lord.  I am also fortunate enough to know some principals and superintendents who value and will pay for my expertise as a school climate and leadership consultant.  As for tyro, if you don’t know, you’ve got google, don’t you?”

 In the current arguments of adjunct/contingent instructors and the lack of benefits associated with part-time employment, “tyro” and “adjunct” just might describe the lowest of the low in terms of rank and experience –  and indeed, it does.

I’m not running from this description of who I am in relation to the university, in fact, I’m revelling in it.  I know that this is the special time that I will look back on throughout my career and remember what it felt like when everything about my new profession was, well, new.

 I’ve been to the IT department to get my logins’, passwords and email address.  I’ve had my photo taken and I’ve received my ID badge.  I’ve organized my teaching binder, marked up my class calendar, and appropriated post-its, highlighters and red pens to my Timbuk2 Commute bag.   I’ve set up shop in the local coffee shops and spent hours grinding out a stellar syllabus for my very first class as a professor.  Much like the 200th revision to my committee prior to my successful defense, I nervously, yet carefully checked and re-checked the dates, spelling and clarity of my production.

 I arose from my coffee shop seat with tall, triple-shot Americano in hand, and read the entire document line for line no less than thrice ensuring that the syllabus would even meet the inspection of my cruel major Professor.  [I also made sure not to include compound, flowery sentences like the one immediately prior.]

 In making the usual rounds between the administration building and the department building, walking the campus gave me an opportunity to see the busy undergraduates as “my students” for the first time.  That’s right, despite the majority of them probably never coming in contact with me or my classes, I looked out across the quad, and I saw “my students.”

 This is the same feeling that I know as a former middle school educator – looking out across the entire campus and seeing the entire student body as “my students.”  What is significantly different from my middle school experience, is the increased feeling of responsibility that I now have to give these, “my students” something real, something valuable that they they can use sooner, not later.

 I know I have made a difference in the lives of the middle school students I have been blessed to counsel, teach and advise.  Not from any recognition of my efficacy, which does exist, but from the choices being made now by students formerly under my charge as an educator.  They are beginning to mature and get careers and I am proud to have been in each of their lives.

I have spent the majority of my educational career teaching life lessons to 13 year olds, preparing them for the day when 21 reaches them and they will have to put these lessons to the test.

Well, now “my students” are 21-22 year olds and the established look of naivete that I recognize in their faces, makes the responsibility to give them something real and valuable NOW even more visceral and “real.”

 I am teaching an Introduction to Education course this semester.  My educational philosophy is grounded in counseling theory.  Simply stated, I see the therapeutic nature of learning and teaching and I came to advance that magical function.

 If I can’t give my students the thorough introduction to Education that they deserve, AND give them the support and encouragement they need to make the strong, sometimes tough decisions that this stage of their adolescence requires, then I don’t deserve the lowly titles of “tyro” nor “adjunct.”

 I defended my dissertation in July, was hooded in August, and by September I had an ID badge bearing the university seal and the coveted word “Faculty” imprinted on it.

 I received my first print copy of The Chronicle addressing me as “Dr.” and with Professor in the title line, so I guess it’s official.  Keys – check, water bottle – check, messenger bag – check, Chronicle subscription – check.  Look out Academy, prepare to be invaded!

 One month in, and I think I am doing well in my mission to provide high quality instruction AND to give my students something real and valuable.

 I am accomplishing this because of two main factors:  1) I am not allowing anyone but me to determine how I value myself as an adjunct, and 2) I am not going to start my career in the academy by focusing on the miserable aspects of my probationary status.

 I chose this career fully aware of the tenure track protocol, regimentation and paying of dues that are involved.  No one made me.

 Yes, it has become harder to make ends meet and yes, I do sometimes question the choices I have made.  Once my proposal was approved, I took a lower paying, less demanding job that allowed me to conduct my research, write it up and graduate, so I am used to the sacrificing part of this new life.

My colleagues within the department may be looking at me with pity and  confusion.  They may be perplexed as to why someone would begin a teaching career at my age and risk being an adjunct for most of their teaching career.  They may look at me and say to themselves that they will never allow me into their ranks.  Whatever they may think or see or even say to themselves is of absolutely no consequence to me.

 All the articles and comments in The Chronicle that detail the hellish experiences of other adjuncts don’t move me either.  I’m stoic to the rhetoric on both sides.

What I have decided to focus on is much more personal, much more important than any of that other stuff.  I’m focused on giving my students something real and valuable.

 That’s what I came to the Academy to do.


The Tyro Adjunct Prof



*Alternatively titled:  “Why don’t I hate being an Adjunct?” or “Being an Adjunct Professor sucks 60% less than what I had been led to believe!” (Of course, n = 1)


*From the intro by Mark: Looking back, that EWA conference was a pivotal experience: I met luminaries in the field of education such as Samuel Reed, Ariel Sacks, Mark Roberts, David Ginsburg, Jose VilsonStephen Lazar, Dan Brown, and Kenneth Bernstein, as well as luminaries in the field of education journalism, such as Peter Meyer, Stephen Sawchuck, Liz Bowie, and Claudio Sanchez. A few of the folks I met there have become friends with whom I maintain contact–one of whom is Mike.