By Erik Hanson
Here’s a phrase I’ve heard quite often since first announcing my intent to teach: “You must love what you do, because no one chooses this profession in the hopes of getting rich.” Here’s another phrase: “Eventually, your classes will just teach themselves.”
It’s true that I love what I do, or at least I hope I do. I have to, because not only are adjuncts doomed to earn a relative pittance over the course of their careers—but so far I have yet to meet an adjunct who doesn’t teach (or want to teach) for multiple institutions in order to scrape up cash for rent, gas, and food. (Not necessarily listed in order of priority.) In the meantime, we scour postings for the golden full-time positions that will catapult us from the peasant class to the lower-middle class.
After rereading that first paragraph, I suppose I’d even admit that it sounds exaggerated. Call me biased, but I don’t think my scenario of the flustered adjunct, budgeting long-term pantry storage when not prepping for classes, is too far off the mark. I’ll gladly admit that I live comfortably when the paychecks are coming in, but that legendary “stride” I’ve heard mentioned, that divine phenomenon of the classes that supposedly teaching themselves, has yet to reveal itself to this New Adjunct. Thus, the majority of my time outside of class is spent in prep-related activities.
I can say one thing with certainty: when there is no time for recreation, there is little need for recreational funds.
But cash isn’t *gasp* just for recreation. During the break between semesters (winter or summer), I watching my reserves dwindle. The income may stop, but the bills never do. Is it any wonder that many new adjuncts throw themselves at opportunities to teach a class, any class? Thinly spread, here we come.
I recently experienced an unexpected benefit of my advice on getting known, and it was directly caused by a lapse in my conversational filter that I attribute to nearly a month-long diet consisting primarily of rice, beans, and canned tuna fish. While speaking with my supervisor, I joked about answering a friend’s general inquiry of my outlook on teaching so far, blurting out something along the lines of, “I’d say the most effective diet plan I’ve ever been on is teaching English.” I believe the expression on my supervisor’s face was shock, but my tank was constantly running on empty at that time (both literally and metaphorically), so I can’t really say for sure. What I do remember is that I immediately wished I hadn’t said it. Thankfully, my candid moment must have struck a chord with her, because shortly after that I was contacted by the supervisor of another department to see about picking up some tutoring hours.
Now that I’m gathering practical experience like a madman and diversifying my teaching portfolio, I find that—subconsciously, I think—I’ve been taking on as many classes as physically (and legally) possible to keep the threat of malnutrition at bay. Unfortunately, the hectic schedule has invited an altogether different kind of zombification, and unlike Hollywood zombies, who don’t have the capacity to feel, this Adjunct Zombie feels that keeping up this frantic pace has Horror Film written all over it. Unless, of course, these classes magically start teaching themselves as advertised.
Unfortunately for me, teaching does come with a nearly endless supply of braaaaaains.
About the Adjunct: Erik Hanson completed his MA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Northern Iowa, where he also earned his BA in German, during which time he spent one year studying abroad in Austria. Thus far, his teaching portfolio consists of developmental writing and composition courses. In those rare moments when he is not in class or tutoring English students, he can usually be found hunched over his keyboard with a cup of coffee, working on short fiction or developing his novel.