How Not to Burn Bridges (Hey, what is that smoky smell?)

I had planned to write this week about how to avoid burning bridges with colleges if someone has to turn down a class. Then, the phone rang at 8:30 this morning and shortly after, I began to smell smoke.

First, some background. This semester was going to be my biggest yet in terms of number of schools and number of classes. I would have some new preps, but they were for some classes I looked forward to teaching at some schools where I wanted to teach. I was offered a class at one of the new schools for Fall semester, but when I went to adjunct orientation, I was told I would not be needed that semester after all. This happens sometimes: occasionally a class won’t have enough people sign up and it does not run. Another time, for example, a department chair bumped me from one of my classes because enough students did not register for one of hers and she had a required number of hours to teach.

Colleges make decisions that are best for the students and for the schools thenselves. I know not to take these things personally. I was pleased, then, when the director told me that I would be on the schedule for the Winter semester. By the middle of Fall semester, he emailed me and said he would put me down for one class and would have another instructor contact me about curriculum and materials.

By the end of Fall semester, I hadn’t heard anything, so I emailed the director and asked if the class was a go because I wanted to begin preparing to teach it. A week later, I had a reply that the class looked like a go but he was waiting to assign instructors until the full-time faculty made their teaching load.

Keep in mind that although I love teaching, I do this for a living. My living can vary substantially from semester-to-semester; sometimes I have a full semester, then there are semesters, like last summer, during which I ended up teaching one class and worring about starving. One class falling through can mean the difference between gourmet pasta and macaroni and cheese from a box. I, like a lot of other adjuncts, depend on teaching to support  myself and my family.

A week later, I still hadn’t heard from the director. I did, however, receive a phone call from another school’s department chair who said they had a scheduling snafu and needed someone to teach a class that started the next day. It was a class I hadn’t had the opportunity to teach before and I was excited about it. I don’t think of myself as superstitious, but maybe it was meant to be! I took the class, whipped up a syllabus and course schedule and made plans to teach the class. I also immediately fired off an email to the director at the other college from whom I had been waiting to hear. I told him I had been offered another class and had accepted it, so he needn’t worry about giving me a class for the upcoming semester. I said perhaps it would work out for another semester and that I would still like to teach for him in the future.

The phone rang at 8:30 the following morning. The director said he’d received my email and stated he was prepared to offer me the original class. I told him I would be unable to accept it because of the class for which I had just signed a contract. He then asked about my teaching a Wednesday morning class. I had to think for a moment: I was free Wednesday mornings, could I handle another class? I already had three new preps and a full schedule of four colleges in four counties.

I told him no. I said again I would still like to teach for him, perhaps the next semester. He was noncommittal and, I think, none too pleased. I have this feeling I may not hear from him again and I felt bad all week about how things went. Even when we make concerted efforts to be flexible and acquiescent, things still don’t always work out. Not burning bridges is an excellent goal, but that doesn’t mean it will be simple.

I will keep my fingers crossed and my guard up for next semester. The juggling game begins again and I must keep working on my communication skills and hoping for the best.

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