It’s that time of year again when many of us are rushing to get our spring syllabi together and preparing for the semester ahead. I just found out which course I am teaching a few days ago, giving me two weeks to get it all done. (Granted, that’s better than the time I was hired on day 2 of classes and my students were way more prepared for the semester than I was. I spent the entire semester playing “catch up.”) With the rush and the pile of work ahead of me, I’m amazed anyone could think I have any “free time” on my hands.
But it happens. Any number of scenarios, some of which are based on real experiences, come to mind, such as the following:
- Have you ever had to bring home a two-foot stack of papers just to prove you had work to do?
- Have you ever had to tell visiting family and friends “no” repeatedly because you are trying to grade fifty midterms and they keep asking you to go with them to tourist trap central and “show us around?”
- Have you ever heard “Oh, you work just part-time, so you can entertain us while your wife/husband/partner/significant other is at more important full-time job” (or some variation of that question)?
- Have you ever been told you have “lots of vacation time” because “you’re a teacher?”
Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? All of them stem from one belief: “You work part-time, so you must have lots of free time.” I know someone, sometime, is going to ask me to break routine (which I hate) and do something for him/her, for me, or whoever. It always comes at the wrong moment—at the beginning of the semester, when I need to get my course ready, during midterm week, when I have anywhere from 25-100 midterm tests and/or papers to grade before the deadline, or during finals, when I have only so much time (a few days, a week at most) to finish grading everything and then turn in my grades.
At one of those times, or really at any point during the semester, someone, either a friend or a relative, comes up to me and says, “Oh, it must be wonderful to work only part time! You have all that free time to play.”
After the incredulity passes, I answer, “No, not really.”
So what is this free time others speak of? My definition: A mythical period of time during which a person has absolutely nothing to do. Usually believed by nonacademic friends and family of the adjunct by choice.
As we Adjuncts By Choice know, teaching part-time does not mean we have time loads of free time. Adjunct teaching does have its advantages. I like the flexibility that part-time teaching allows, but “flexibility” does not equal “lots of free time.” Sure, I am able to pursue other interests, like blogging for AdjunctNation.com, working on my other writing, reading (though not often enough)…but I also have to plan lessons, teach classes, grade papers, hold office hours, pursue professional development, and so on. (I also have another job, also in education, but that brings up a whole other tangent, involving my workaholism, no doubt inherited from my mother, and/or insanity, whichever one you want to believe.)
However, perception is everything, right? What our friends and loved one see is this: You teach two classes, each of which meets for one hour three days a week, so obviously you work only six crummy hours a week. How about that three-hour night class? You work only three hours a week, all in one night? Unfortunately, this is what many people who do not work in higher education believe.
When I first started teaching, I had this strong suspicion that the nonacademics in my life had no clue how much work I really did in my job and that I actually had real work to do. To convince everyone that I did have a “real job,” I started bringing stacks of papers (not quite two feet, but close enough) with me when I visited my family and made sure they were seen, or rather that I was seen reading and grading them. (Yes, Mom, I did that on purpose.) No, I did not really want to spend time working when I was supposed to be visiting, but there’s nothing like tangible evidence to prove a point. As an added bonus, I got some work done.
So did my strategy work? Maybe a little. I still have to fight the perception that I am “on vacation” during times like Spring Break and the summer and repeatedly say “no” when I have work to do, whether I am visiting the family or my friends or they are visiting me. I suppose I could show them the unpacked boxes still stacked in various spots around my home even after two months of living here, but would those boxes tell them that my time is limited or that I am just too lazy too care?
Now that I think about it, I do not believe I will ever change the perception that I have plenty of free time to do whatever I want, especially when people find out I work “only part-time.” And now that I am married, I have a whole new set of people to convince.
The work never ends!
About the Adjunct: Melissa McDonald is an adjunct instructor, writing consultant, and a military spouse all rolled into one. She earned a BA in English from Nicholls State University and an MA in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She has taught composition, technical writing, and literature courses, both face-to-face and online. She also has experience as a journal and a newsletter editor, a webmaster, and a writer. Outside of work, Melissa enjoys spending time with her family, playing with her cats, reading, writing, and cross stitching.