By Kat Kiefer-Newman
Over the holidays I went to a department Christmas party with a friend and fellow adjunct professor. This was a party thrown by the Chair of the Department at one of the colleges my friend (not I) teaches at, and both full-time and part-time faculty members mingled. I went with him because he had just begun a relationship, but his new squeeze couldn’t go as his date. She teaches in that department at that college and their romance is very hush-hush at the moment. I was the shill, the beard, the distraction—the Elsa Lanchester to his Charles Laughton (minus the gay subtext). And, despite the goo-goo eyes my friend and his inamorata made at each other for two hours, and the stolen moments they took in the broom closet, I think we all pulled off the deception quite well. (And the winner for Best Adjunct in a Supporting Role is…..Kat Kiefer-Newman. Me: “I’d like to thank this, the other Academy, my loving family, and my Smart Phone.”)
I suspect there are actually quite a few of these secret romances playing out right under our noses, don’t you?
This got me thinking about the subject of colleagues who date—particularly within the adjunct gene pool. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? On the pro side, who else understands your woes and joys better than a fellow part-timer? Think about it. Suppose you accidentally assigned your class the final grades from their last assignment instead of their cumulative final grades, because that college had recently changed Blackboard versions and, in a hurry, you look at the wrong column ? This was one story I heard at the party. Most people outside of Academe would glaze over well before you ever got to the part about the new version of Blackboard…blah, blah, blah. Who else but a fellow faculty member could appreciate the horrors?
Here’s another one I heard at the party:
What if the bookstore tells you they absolutely won’t order any of the older versions of your textbook?The new version is quite different and you spent your break revising all of your course material. You send the new pieces to the print shop and get all of your overheads or PowerPoints or handouts prepped. When the semester begins, you discover that the bookstore not only sold the older version, but none of your students even has the newer version. Again, only someone who has experienced this sort (or similar) of a frustration truly knows what it can mean to the instructor.
Having a paramour who understand the need for sympathy is so vital to dealing with these types of job frustrations. The joys, too, are amplified when one’s life-partner has been down that same road. What about when students bring homemade fudge, cookies, peanut brittle, or even knitted scarves as “thank yous” for a terrific semester? Some spouses might find that oddly forward, but another faculty member gets how personal it can be in a 10, 16, or 18 week class. How about when a student spontaneously bursts into tears because she’s made the decision to switch majors and she credits the encouragement she got in your class? Again, this is a beautiful moment and sharing it with someone who has experienced something like it makes it all the more rewarding.
OK, but there are downsides galore. For one thing, both of you can end up out of work at the same time. Worse still, as is the case of my friend, you can both vie for the same meager adjunct job openings. His ego recently took a beating, in fact, when he and his paramour were neck-in-neck for one departmental opening. She got a second interview and he never even got a confirmation call that they received his vitae. He laughs and jokes about it, but I know it burns him.
At another college, where they also work together, he jockeyed for a few classes for this upcoming Spring semester that he’d heard on the grapevine were opening up to part-timers. He got the classes and breathed a sigh of relief that he would now be able to pay his rent (and take his lady-love out for some expensive coffee at their favorite hole-in-the-wall). Just before Christmas, she learned that her three classes at that same school were given to a full-timer. She is now wondering how she’s going to pay her own bills. It’s all very Doctor Zhivago tragic.
Obviously, I wish them the best in their budding romance. On the other hand, when I attend college functions I’ll look around the room and wonder (possibly as an aside to the part-timer standing next to me) who’s zooming whom.
About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)
By Kat Kiefer-Newman