By Helene Matheny
There are certainly benefits to working as an adjunct. Using my car as my office is not one of them. Only once in my ten years as an adjunct professor of history have I been offered an actual office to use exclusively — complete with full desk, phone line, laptop, bookshelves and my name outside the door, giving me a place to work and regularly meet with students in a professional manner. I even hung my degrees and some personal artwork on the wall. But this came about only because a full-time faculty member had left abruptly at the end of the previous semester. It became a brief but satisfying home.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there was the time that the adjunct “office” was literally a media-storage closet. One small desk with barely enough room for a chair was to be shared by several adjuncts. Sure, there was a narrow glass panel on the door through which I could peer out into the hallway, but it was a closet nevertheless. In the Fall of 2005, I was teaching five courses at three different colleges in New Jersey. None of them offered an exclusive desk or any storage space for my supplies. At one college, I was given Smartboard training, and then never assigned a classroom with the technology in it.
Yet these experiences, among others, have forced me to forge a clear and focused path in my teaching career. Like the time I spent two weeks travelling through Europe after my graduate exams with nothing but what could fit in a backpack, being a “homeless” adjunct has helped me to focus on what is really important to me and value experiences and learning in and of themselves. The tools of my craft — from lecture notes, to whiteboard markers, to the artifacts from my collection I use in my history classes, must be carefully selected and cared for and always ready for transport.
With fewer resources at my disposal, being mobile has also allowed me to hone my ability to be flexible and less rote and superficial with my course program. I have had to focus even more on making sure my class content is engaging and rewarding for my students, and have enjoyed more general academic freedom than my tenured counterparts who are pressured to publish.
Moreover, by working at numerous colleges in several states over the last decade, I have not only been able to learn a variety of teaching techniques and approaches, but also gain insight into diverse student populations. I have had the pleasure of teaching every kind of student from the traditional eighteen year old fresh out of high school, to adult students at Newark Airport in a special extension program, to at-risk students who just completed a GED in Mississippi. From this rich tapestry of learners, I have been able to creatively adjust my course material while still getting the important core of information across.
Looking back on these experiences as a mobile adjunct instructor, and the gifts it has offered, having a car-office doesn’t seem such a bad trade-off after all.