What Makes Me Real?

When I was in graduate school I was pulled towards two different realities.

On one hand, the faculty encouraged scholarship. More than once I was essentially told that to be a real academic, I had to publish. In some cases, I was told this quite explicitly and literally. In other cases, it was communicated through advice cloaked in various degrees of politeness and helpfulness. Such comments ranged from “You probably won’t want to teach in that program; you’ll want to choose something that will require less energy from you, so you can focus on your own dissertation” to the more straightforward “So, what are you working on?”

In a few dozen repetitions, even a first year graduate student un-socialized in academic culture (me, in other words) can learn to answer with discussions of papers underway, not teaching projects.

On the other hand, while I did well in my coursework, I found myself at sea emotionally with most of my studies. The level of abstraction and the theoretical assumptions seemed divorced from life…but teaching did not. Teaching—even teaching a bunch of hung over, resistant freshmen at 8 AM—was real. Dragging them from stasis and fear to understanding carried an excitement with it. I spent hours plotting class sequences and even dedicated time trying to figure out how to reach each student.

These two gravitational fields pulled me back and forth. At times I achieved synthesis: insight from my own research and writing flowed into my teaching. Most of the time, though, the two didn’t seem to connect and I was simply torn.

As an adjunct, I am too often free of both tensions. That is to say, there are no tenure reviews keeping me on the publishing track. My employers don’t ask about my writing—and most don’t seem interested. In more than one case, there’s no regular form or time to report it. I find myself feeling like a scholastic ghost: there’s no real scholar here.

I should be free to focus on my teaching. It’s true that my time is spent teaching, but too much time is spent there. I have to take the advice I got in graduate school on repeating assignments, just to survive, but that means the creativity, connection, and reality are squeezed from my teaching. I’m infinitely more experienced as a teacher than I was as a graduate student…but I don’t feel real.

What makes an adjunct real? It isn’t writing. Maybe it is fatigue.

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