So Long and Thanks for All the Dry Erase Markers – A Teacher on Retiring at Age 27

Editor’s Note: This is the first in what we hope to be many articles by Marlana Eck. Marlana is the founder and editor of the brand-spanking-new publication, Lehigh Valley Vanguard. The mission of the Lehigh Valley Vanguard reads:

We are a progressive visual and literary symposium of Lehigh Valley intellectuals and artists. We try to feature narratives that speculate on the state of our current society and the betterment of its future: locally and globally.

Not only is the Vanguard a welcome addition to the progressive media landscape in PA, Raging Chicken Press is thrilled to be its sponsor! One of the goals of Raging Chicken has always been to expand and deepen the progressive media infrastructure. Thanks to the support of our members and contributors, here is a concrete example of what we can do with your support! Please check out the Lehigh Valley Vanguard!

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“The only worker who is productive is one who is productive for capital. A schoolmaster is productive when, in addition to belaboring the heads of his pupils, he works himself into the ground in order to enrich the owner of the school.” Marx

Many people are finally realizing that the nation’s institutions of higher learning are being taught by piecemeal, temporary workers. It’s nice to see so many people adding to the conversation. I thought I would tell a little part of my own story in solidarity.

I was an adjunct “professor” for almost three years from ages 24-27. I worked at three different schools after I received my Masters in Education.

When you are a contingent worker, you have what feels like a constant state of fight-or-flight adrenal issues. Your job is not real. By that I mean, you are a perpetual temporary worker. If a student asks you if they can take your class next semester, you’re not sure what to tell them, so you lie a little: “Sure.”

You are always in fear that you will lose your “job” for a reason that may not be valid, logical, or even legal. You certainly won’t get due process. Colleges and universities have plenty of pre-packaged justifications for not re-hiring you from one semester to the next. “The enrollment for spring semester is low.” That’s popular. “You haven’t built up enough seniority here.” “We just don’t like you–I mean…the students don’t like you.” Maybe. We’re not sure.  You’re young. You’re a young woman.

“Why did your student write on your student evaluation ‘I don’t like her. Maybe because she is young and she’s a woman’?” (I was actually asked this question.)

“Um. Should I answer this question?,” I venture. “Maybe because he never learned to grapple with women as anything other than objects because his primary school teachers were too busy trying to keep their jobs by teaching how to do well on standardized tests? I don’t know. What about the other students who liked that I catered to different learning styles and made them want to explore and research topics that matter to them?”

Doesn’t matter.

If you want to become a teacher to “inspire” students, don’t become an adjunct. You’ll be too busy worrying about how you’re going to afford to eat during the week to plan meaningful lessons. You’ll be too worried that you will lose your job if you ask for better pay or try to form a union.

20130904-graph-dont-blame-teachers-for-rising-college-tuition-1What if you can’t reasonably grade 40 student papers in an Ethics and Moral Problems course? OH WELL. Everyone gets an “A.” The administration doesn’t care. Do you know how much of a cash crop adjuncts are? 40 butts in a seat and they only have to pay the instructor $1500. The price of a class per student varies, but at community college it is about $400 per class, not including institutional fees. A conservative estimate is about $16,000 per class. And the instructor gets $1500. That seems fair.

You must not teach anyone anything. Better yet, teach students “important life lessons” like MLA format. Why would you spend two weeks teaching students critical thinking? What good would that do them in college? Students come here to learn how to be good employees, not critical thinkers and critical citizens. Right?

Are you out of your fucking mind?

It is in the interests of a university’s administration to make it incredibly difficult to form any bonds among workers. Everyone is always looking at themselves and their performance hypercritically and there is never any security. It’s like expecting a child in an orphanage to want to bond with his umpteenth temporary foster family. The child will soon understand that once you bond, that security is wrecked and taken away once again. And then there is the passive abuse of the low wage, which keeps you always anxious. Your office? A pig pen where other abused teachers get to roll around in their millions of papers from sometimes 4 different temporary teaching jobs. We frequently would receive memos that remind us that it is a community space, so don’t try to decorate it with things that might make it human like plants or pictures of your family.

Calendars are okay. They like calendars.

I was more secure at my job at a McDonalds when I was 14 years old than I was in this pseudo-professional job as a higher ed. piece worker.

There is a dominant concern in this nation’s higher education industry that is no different from other industries: above all things, ensure a return for the shareholders. You have more butts in seats? Good. Excellent. Keep that going.

Cash for credits. No autonomy. You’re here to work, not to make friends.

 

2 Comments on So Long and Thanks for All the Dry Erase Markers – A Teacher on Retiring at Age 27

  1. This is very disturbing. I hope Raging Chicken and the Vanguard are sent regularly to our state reps and senators. They likely know very little about how our colleges are turning professors into temps. Who the hell is going to want to become a college professor? The only difference between highly educated professors and the unskilled people one sees lined up every day at the temp agency (next door to the Reading Eagle building) hoping to get a daily work assignment, I suspect, is that the professors have a contract good for one semester. It is sad anyone has to line up and ask for a job assignment. Maybe that is why some find a life of crime is more appealing. This country is is very bad shape, thanks to the austerity crowd (primarily Republicans). Keynes must be turning over in his grave.

  2. I doubt the LVV is sent regularly to state legislators, but it doesn’t matter. Legislators do, of course, know how adjuncts are on the rise. They are part of the problem – they are the ones who keep voting to defund public education, eviscerating budgets for instructional staff, and approving administrators with little to no higher ed experience. In their eyes, their universities are getting PhD-level teachers for a fraction of their actual value. The fact that these adjuncts are struggling to make ends meet or that the quality of the classes are taking a nosedive – they simply DON’T care.

    But people still want to become college professors because they are sold a myth. The students who go to graduate school by and large attend more elite colleges and universities where they are mostly taught by TT faculty and are pretty unaware of what an adjunct is, or how they are different, even if they are taught by a few. So the image they see of a college professor is their advisor, who has an office filled with books and a view of the pretty campus quad with light streaming in through the window, who gets to teach two or three classes a semester and engage with other smart people like the student themselves, and who gets to read and write about whatever they want every day. They think that’s what most professors do, and so of course they also want to do that.

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