Upper-Level Courses & The New Adjunct


hansonBy Erik Hanson
What would you do for that golden opportunity?
Wait, we can probably assume most New Adjuncts might equate that sort of opportunity with a full-time teaching position. For the sake of argument, let’s downgrade that to a silver opportunity and define it as the upper-level course you’ve been dying to get your hands on since making the decision to teach. As a New Adjunct, I’ve noticed that there is an unspoken set of rules on course assignments, which shouldn’t be surprising, as this is how most jobs are structured: the old guard gets first pick, while the rookies get to cut their teeth on the introductory courses. The defining characteristic of the old guard is that they are full-time faculty — quite likely on the tenure-track.
It seems there are few exceptions to the pecking order, and most attempts I’ve made to solicit placement in one of those upper-level courses have always been met with positive comments, but for some reason I have yet to find myself assigned to one. It’s understandable, I suppose, that there should be a breaking-in period. Putting myself into the shoes of the old guard, I can see how it would be unacceptable to put in all those years only to watch the coveted courses get divvied out to some young upstart, which is why I do everything possible to take whatever classes I’m offered, because I feel a need to prove that I can take it all on without breaking a sweat. In fact, I’ve been in a couple situations in which I turned down offers simply because my schedule couldn’t possibly handle the load—what feels like an almost boast-worthy accomplishment in the current economic climate.
So far, this habit of packing my schedule as tightly as I can has been akin to spinning plates. At the beginning, there are a few major things to focus on, and then the busy work of maintaining the momentum is what takes all the time and energy; see a plate wobbling, give it a spin then quickly turn around to find the next wobbler. Going into a packed teaching schedule, there is no luxury of letting a plate or two drop without serious repercussions—blacklisting in extreme cases. If this plate-spinner already has too many wobblers, why would I add another plate?
This semester has been trying, to say the least, and with cancellations due to severe weather, a few sick days due to one of the various mutant strains of flu virus going around, and a summons for jury duty looming in the near future, it would almost appear as if the fates are against me. Spring Break can’t get here soon enough, because I need to catch up. At the moment, my wobbling plates are a mountain of student work to get through and a small handful of missed deadlines—luckily only minor, for the most part, but they add up. It would be counter-intuitive to add another plate, but I have.
I have been granted a silver opportunity.
Where I’ve deemed other offers too much to take on, this is the one I’m willing to stretch for, to drive an extra 150 (non-reimbursed) miles per week, and to lose what precious little personal time I have left. This is the course I’ve been waiting for, and what’s best, it was the result of a word-of-mouth referral.
Sure, I may be crazy, but what would you do?
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.

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