By Helene A. Matheny
Maybe it’s because I have long, curly, red hair, or maybe it’s because my skin-type causes me, at forty- five, to still have occasional break-outs. Perhaps, it could be my somewhat bohemian clothing, or the fact that I traded my brown-rimmed (and very scholarly-looking) glasses for contacts, but to quote the late Rodney Dangerfield, “I don’t get no respect!” And I assume that most of you have experienced the same feeling at times.
Actually, I suspect something else is afoot, as I’m pretty sure I have proven over the last ten years that I am very serious about teaching and about my students. The lack of respect emanates from two spheres in which I move, the world of my students and the world of the full-time faculty. Each brings its own set of frustrations. At times it seems as though I am stuck hovering somewhere between these two, and am constantly seeking to bridge the gap.
Generation Y: As in why do I have to do that?? Why do I have to speak like that? Why do I have to dress a certain way?I often sound like my eighty-six year old dad when I speak of my students. I mention their lack of ambition, lack of manners, and lack of appreciation for education and educators. In reality, I think there has been as serious erosion of general manners and etiquette in my lifetime (yes, my dad would talk about the same in his earlier life). I am appalled at the number of young people who do not say thank you, who talk on their phones in all manner of inappropriate situations, who talk to me as they would one of their friends, and who see nothing wrong with coming to class in fuzzy pink slippers or with a hoodie pulled up over their head. Add to this the emails and text messages such as, “hey ms matheny, dis mary…” I receive.
Was it the advent of “casual days” at businesses that launched this nightmarish trend? I’m not sure, but I do believe that if you treat something with a lax attitude and dress as you would when lounging at home, you are less likely to take the classroom and what goes on there seriously.
Shockingly, I recently came across a blog entry from a student stressing the importance of proper behavior in the classroom. The students who didn’t catch that entry should read this one on how having your cell phone in class impacts learning. However, there is another side to this. My students have shown me that, with the (unfortunate) abandoning of certain manners, they have also let go of (or never had) many of the prejudices and assumptions that their parents and grandparents, or even I may have had. One of the most positive trends I have seen, both in New York and New Jersey, and here now in Mississippi, is that progress in social attitudes, however slow, is continuing and possibilities for equality grow.
The Ivory Tower: Ask anyone to describe a “professor” to you, and nine out of ten times you be given an image of a bearded, tweed-jacketed (with elbow-patches, of course) pipe-smoking individual with a Ph.D.
Yet the reality is that teaching faculty across the nation are more diverse than ever, offering great amounts of not only valuable insight into their subject matter, but important connections with the community and workplace. Yet as all of us on this forum have demonstrated, the attitude we receive from the tenured, as well as the college administration, is on par with that given the “black sheep” of the family. (So, when are you getting that Ph.D.???)
Lisa Tittle wrote an excellent article on the Diverse: Issues in Higher Education website challenging the status quo simply called “Lastword: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” She makes an solid case for including adjunct faculty not only in the mission objectives and goals of colleges, but also bringing them in for strategic planning. According to the AFT, she states, upwards of 69 percent of teaching faculty are employed part-time in community colleges. Yet, adjunct faculty are almost never considered for planning or development of course material, when they often are the most in touch with what and how their students are learning.
The truth is that most adjuncts are still treated as “outsiders,” and worse still, Freeway Flyers are even more on the outer perimeter of this phenomenon. Perhaps the answer lies in somehow fostering more inclusion of adjuncts in decision-making, course planning, and the like, as Ms. Tittle suggests.
Moreover, an understanding of the intermediary role we play is needed. (Jimmy Carter with Sadat and Begin comes to mind!) We connect with our full-time colleagues on the academic level. We connect with our students because of our clearer accessibility to their real-world experiences. A great opportunity is at hand for us to synthesize the two, bringing our students’ needs and the role of scholarship closer together. And while I don’t expect that this will lead to tenured faculty coming to class in fuzzy pink slippers, I do think that an appreciation of the adjunct-as-catalyst will greatly improve student retention and academic performance.
About the Freeway Flyer: Helene Goldstein Matheny received a B.A. in history from Rutgers University, an M.A. in Russian History and Literature from the University of London, and an M.S.Th. degree from The New Seminary, where she was ordained as an Interfaith Celebrant. She has lived in Russia and England, and traveled throughout Europe, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, New Zealand, Fiji and Australia. Helene has taught most frequently as an adjunct professor of history for the last ten years in New York, New Jersey and Mississippi, in addition to teaching history, comparative religion and astronomy at museums and other learning institutions. She is also an accredited pet dog trainer, writes freelance, and has presided over hundreds of weddings as an Interfaith Celebrant and currently lives in Purvis, MS with her husband, three parrots, a cat and a dog. Her writing also appears on examiner.com, and her blogs about life in the South and interests in science, spirit and history.
By Helene A. Matheny