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

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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.


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