Identity Crisis

Folks new to the college experience, whatever their age or pathway, are expecting teachers.  The trouble is that teaching is a whole other profession, with a completely different educational profile, and divergent values, habits, and beliefs from those of us who went through graduate school with the understanding that we would be working at the college level. We are not trained in pedagogy, for one; a basic assumption is that students come to college already provided with the tools to learn, and our job is to communicate discipline-specific information.  If you make this assumption the basis for your self-definition, and communicate it from the outset, you will save yourself a lot of grief.

When students come to college, many may discover for the first time that they have need of remedial instruction in some skill areas.  If you, the professor, define your job as one of helping remedial students, you will never get around to doing what you are actually being paid to do.  Even if we have received some pedagogical training, and are willing and able to assist floundering students, we are not often granted the time or resources to do so. Most adjuncts do not receive payment for office hours, or office spaces with which to meet students. The so-called adjunct offices at one State university where I teach are no better than veal fattening pens; with no phones or computers, they are at best stables where I can be kept quietly in an out of the way location until I am activated.

We are also not counselors, and thus we should avoid advising on any issues but academic ones.  Students come to us with heart-wrenching stories of love gone wrong, disengaged parents, mix-ups with the justice system, and psychological impairments to name just a few. When this happens, and it is usually communicated in the cracks of time between classes, keep in mind that to directly assist in these matters is to risk legal complications which an adjunct can ill-afford.  Compassionate professors will wring their hands at this state of affairs, so it is critical to keep in mind that campuses DO have the staff and resources to help students in need – it just isn’t you:

  • Instead of conducting unpaid office hours over the open trunk of your car, learn which departments on campus have student support offerings, and put those in your syllabus.
  • Do not hesitate to refer students to on-campus resources, such as the writing center, in your evaluation of their work.
  • When students arrive, three weeks into the semester, still lacking books, it may be because they haven’t learned to navigate the channels of financial aid, or even understand that it exists! 
  • Students with spotty attendance records may be struggling with health issues, and likely have no idea that the campus health center exists, or what it can do for them. 
  • Be careful, however, in referring students for mental health, or perceived disability; this can backfire.  When accommodations are asked for, just make sure you are aware of campus regulations, and keep the lines of communication open with DSPS.

Rather than trying to be all things to all students, you can best help them with a comprehensive and up to date knowledge of what kinds of resources are available on campus, and how they might access them.  Let the professionals on campus do their jobs, so you can concentrate on your own.

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