By Kat Kiefer-Newman
Welcome back, Adjuncts! Does it feel welcome at your institution(s) of higher learning? My classes began this week at both schools – that’s never happened before – and it’s been a week of saying “no” to a constant stream of pleading, begging, and tales of woe. One of my department chairs believes he’s turned away nearly 100 students. I’m near that number now and will top it during the second week if students continue to hope for a seat in my class, in any class.
Part of the problem is faculty members have been cut; I don’t have a number, and it may just be a rumor students pass around to understand why they can’t get classes. Some familiar faces around campus are gone, but that could just be a matter of scheduling; I try not to gossip with other faculty or my department chairs, so I am out of the loop, but I do know the colleges issued hard deadlines to students regarding tuition fees, and even one hour past deadline saw many wide-eyed seat warmers dropped from their classes.
The stories are grim and very sad. Students tell me they will lose insurance if they don’t have a certain number of units, and young mothers are hurt the worst. I’ve heard some employers now require continuing education and students who can’t fulfill this requirement face unemployment. Several panicked emails related stories of transfers now on hold because their Community College didn’t inform the student about one final, mandatory class. Out here in Southern California, state schools have long waiting lists for new students and transfers, so losing a spot makes “continuing education” precarious at best.
But it isn’t all doom-and-gloom. Students attending my latest Death and Dying class came to the first session with happy smiles. They even had textbooks. Yes, you read that right, most students had their textbooks on the first day of class. I was happily shocked. Pell Grants haven’t been disbursed yet, and in my other classes I’ve been told students don’t have money for textbooks until the grant money rolls in. Seeing my textbook on nearly every desk reminded me why I love teaching: I teach because I love sharing information; I love shocking and stunning them into new ways of thinking; I love moving them out of their safe, comfortable think-set; and I love being their guide through some really fascinating and fun material.
The second class meeting was even more surprisingly good. I began with a discussion of the first chapter, a very dry treatise on cultural rites of passage. Because of the students’ questions and comments and momentum, that discussion lasted an hour and fifteen minutes. We covered the chapter more thoroughly and with more gusto than any lecture I could have given. I was walking on clouds when I left class. It was like the very first class I ever taught; I got that warm adrenaline rush that comes from really engaging in material that moves me. You know what I mean. That’s also why we teach, that feeling of connection with people and with the community at large.
I’m still responding to hopeful emails begging for a seat in one-any-of my classes. Each email makes me sad. If the college would hire a few of us adjuncts full time, that one change would help so many students. When I pitched the idea to my chair, he nodded wisely and with a certain amount of irony. It’s not on the agenda this year no matter how much he might agree with me. Like I keep telling would-be students, it is out of our hands.