The Paperwork Monster Keeps Nipping at My Heels

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LanceBy Helene A. Matheny

Perhaps you’ve seen that “Neatdesk” ad, where office papers come alive in the form of a “monster.”  Every time I see that, I think of the one that seems to be incessantly nipping at my heels. As an accredited positive reinforcement pet trainer, I teach my clients that most unwanted behaviors are dissipated by ignoring them and reinforcing the behaviors you do want repeated. To my frustration, this doesn’t seem to be working with this paper beast.

Mountains of redundant paperwork that took away from actual, quality teaching time was one of the reasons I did not continue my brief stint as a middle school teacher. But in the last couple of years, my college paperwork has been threatening to become just as burdensome. There are requirements that make sense to me and have always been a part of adjunct teaching – the roster, entering grades, perhaps an initial and mid-term attendance report, and of course the obvious grading of papers and exams. All of these were multiple in my career as a Freeway Flyer.

But of late I find myself being required to submit weekly attendance reports, and immediately submit cut-out forms for any student who has missed more than the allowed absences for the semester. This means that I have to either call the roll every class or (as I prefer) to send around a sign in sheet, from which I then have to transfer the information to my grade book and then enter online in the college’s reporting system.

The main reason for this is that, at least here in Mississippi, there has been an increasing number of students who get their student loan and grant checks, and then stop showing up for class. It’s these students who usually default on their loans and the college is then required to pay some if not all of it back. In an already struggling state like Mississippi, I can see that this would be a problem, however I think there may be a better way to avoid this problem then hoisting the responsibility on the instructors.

But it does not end there. I am also expected to keep up with reports on student athletes’ academic performance, official procedures for documented learning and physical disabilities, and report any students who are “being disrespectful” in class. At the same time, there are procedures and paperwork for acquiring keys and remote controls for the classrooms and their various media. I also have a designated time assigned to me to bring my students to take an online instructor evaluation at the campus Learning Center. All of this paperwork and record-keeping grows exponentially based on the number of campuses I teach at.

Last semester the most troublesome of my three classes was chosen to do the evaluation (why only one out of three I do not know) and the results were pretty much a joke. One student left a comment stating that I should “stick to the subject” and not teach any world history or other unimportant things! (I included interesting historical facts at the beginning of each class session – which was an Essential College Skills class). For more on the utter insanity of using these student evaluations to measure adjuncts’ performance, see Patricia Lesko’s excellent entry on new developments in how adjuncts are being further scapegoated.

I’ve written earlier about being a gadget geek. I’m sure you’ve realized that this is probably a sign that I am also an avid science-fiction fan (yes, I have been to quite a number of Star Trek conventions). Science fiction was one of the first forms of literature that drew me in, and I have known since I was about nine or ten years old not only how old I’d be in the year 2000,  but what wonderful technology would come about. Some of the gadgets I read about have come to pass: home computers, portable communication devices, touch-screen information tablets, mapping the human genome, 3D televisions and many more. Three things I am still waiting for, however: a flying car, Tom Cruise’s virtual reality computer screen from Minority Report, and, my true dream as a Freeway Flyer – a paperless society.

How do other adjuncts deal with this increasing mountain of paperwork?

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.

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