Ready-Set-Go: The Curtain Goes Up On A New Semester

I rushed around this morning trying to find my nice shoes, print out a copy of my lecture notes, grab the textbook, and wolf down something so my stomach wouldn’t rumble. It was the first day of the new semester. I felt equally harried and elated. I wanted to leave early because students tend to park in the faculty lots during the first three weeks, and I hate being late for my own class due to something controllable, like parking. Next week classes start at the other college I work for, so today had an almost dress-rehearsal feel to it. I don’t know why, my two online classes began on Monday. The staggered starts and endings happen each semester, but I can’t keep from feeling a weird kind of academic bends from coming up too fast. Another pretty common happening is that, like this morning, I forgot something. I neglected to print the class roster. Not the end of the world but a little frustrating. And I didn’t even realize it until I started to call roll…tough to do without a roll sheet.

Does any of this sound familiar? Maybe forgetting the roster on the first day of class isn’t something that happens to you, but I know that adjuncts are busy people. Few of us are any one thing anymore – online instructor, training center tutor, classroom instructor, this or that subject instructor; this is in addition to all of the other things happening in your life. For example, this semester I am scheduled to teach five classes at two different colleges. One of those colleges has me in the English department, while at the other I am in the Social Sciences department. When I’m asked “what do you teach” I always pause. When I’m asked where I work and I say at two colleges, people seem confused. But I doubt that many of my fellow adjuncts would be confused. While the majority of part-timers don’t work in different departments, it isn’t uncommon.

The tricky part of it all is that every college we work for requires a different approach, a different skill-set, even a different persona. Actually, each class requires some form of this, as well. I would no more teach my basic writing classes like my American Religions class, than I would assign the same kind of quiz to my classroom Death and Dying class that I use in my online section of that same class. This is where the title of this blog comes from: Juggling 101. I do juggle. Most of us juggle. And there are sadly more roster-forgetting-type episodes than I like to admit. Sometimes, during midterm time or even finals week, I’ll have whole moments where I forget which school I’m supposed to be. Overcoming these challenges is worryingly like juggling.

I do it— the crazy and jumbled schedules, the late nights of grading, the sadly-rushed letters of reference for really deserving students, the working weekends trying to get the next syllabus done, or plugging away at my online instruction certification (even though I’ve been teaching online for over two years now) – because teaching is exactly what I want to be doing in my life.

Even without the roster, I got to stand in front of a room full of mostly eager, mostly interested, some young and some old, new people. I get to talk about subjects that genuinely interest me, and to share those subjects with over a hundred new people every 18 weeks. I get to tell little jokes and most of the time they laugh. And I get paid to do this.  Most days, too, I feel like I could do this indefinitely without growing bored by any of it.

This past year has seen so many economic ups and downs for the country, the state, my city, and my own family. My husband is also an associate faculty and his course load has been cut in half due to two of his colleges perilously cutting back on part-time instructors. Not uncommonly, neither of us has healthcare, and we were more than worried as the H1N1 flu swept through the classrooms last semester. I have no idea what the near or distant future holds for me; for now, though, I know that I’ll be printing things out at the last minute, hoping I have everything I need, as I rush out the door, my heart racing with an equal mix of exhilaration and beleaguerment.

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