“Can I help you?” the young lady sitting at the colorfully decorated table asked me when I first walked into the building.
It was my first night teaching at this particular school. I had only been there two previous times for interviews and paperwork, and did not recognize anybody on this particular evening.
“Yes, can you tell me where room 302B is located?” I asked.
“Sure”, she happily replied. “Can you tell me what class you’re in, and I can look it up by your teacher’s name to make sure you’re going to the right place?”
Such is the life of an adjunct. I’m used to it. In fact, I’ve come to expect it. I chose this life, after all. That doesn’t always make it easy to deal with, however. Making your living as an Adjunct by Choice has many rewards and challenges.
Among those challenges is actually getting to know the permanent staff and faculty at the school where you’re teaching. In this particular “institute of higher learning,” I had only met two people: the Dean and the Department Chair. Everyone else was a stranger. In addition to knowing virtually no one, I wasn’t given anything to indicate that was an actual employee of the school. I’m sure my suit and tie was a pretty good indicator that I worked there, but doing exactly what was anyone’s guess.
The first couple of weeks went by pretty well. I taught the class and enjoyed it very much. Occasionally someone would greet me in the hall or in the instructor’s lounge. Soon, I began feeling invisible. It was like I had just graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, and been given a job in the mailroom. I felt a wave of frustration starting to wash over me, and knew that I had to do something to make sure people, other than my boss and the students in the class room, knew that yes, I actually worked there!
In the world of part-timers and adjuncts, you must be proactive in getting noticed by those you work with. Not one to be extremely extroverted, I teach Criminal Justice and Criminology after all, not Public Speaking, I took it upon myself to make my presence known. I went out of my way to introduce myself to other staff in the instructor areas and in the hallways. I went to ‘optional’ meetings for adjuncts to meet other staff and faculty. I responded to group emails seeking suggestions or input on various topics.
Yes, it was painful at times. I’m fine standing up in a large group of students. I was great talking to criminals as a probation officer. But I found it difficult at first to actively approach those I didn’t know to simply introduce myself. So many adjuncts I see simply come in, teach, and leave. Many times, I’ve seen new adjuncts walking with their heads down and making a beeline for their classroom as if they’re trying to avoid some great confrontation. Now that I think about it, maybe they are.
I was like that at first. Come in. Speak with the Chair if he was available. Teach. Leave. However, the awkwardness of seeing the same people every time without speaking soon overrode any trepidation I had about introducing myself to people. I finally realized that they weren’t going to say anything, so somebody had to!
The turning point for me occurred one day before class. I had arrived at school very early. I was in the classroom about an hour before class preparing for that nights lesson, when suddenly a man I had seen multiple times (but of course never spoken to) walked in and sat down. We said hello and he didn’t say anything. I asked if he needed me for something.
“No” he said and sat silently.
Well, this is weird, I thought. Finally, my Dean and a couple of other people come in and sit down. Very strange. Finally, I ask Dr. Abbott if they needed the room. He informed me (thankfully), that they were using the room for a teaching demonstration of a potential new adjunct, but I was welcome to stay and watch. I did stay. Poor guy. I felt his nervousness, up in front of the class discussing drafting or something with computers or some other field I have absolutely zero knowledge of. I whispered to Dr. Abbott during the interview about the other individuals seated around me. They turned out to be the other Department Chairs and assistants.
“That’s nice” I remember thinking.
Sure wish I had known that before they all walked in and stared at me.
It was from that point onward, that I make a point out of introducing myself to everyone I see in any school I teach. Sure, I could be invisible like so many others that I see. I could walk in, teach, and then leave. But that’s not me. It’s amazing how the simple act of getting to know your co-workers, even ones you only see once a week, can improve your work environment. No more awkward silences in the instructor areas. No more pretending to look at papers as you walk down the hall, pretending to be distracted. Being able to walk into your school, and not have security look at you funny.
And those new adjuncts that I see sometimes, walking with their heads down? Oh yeah, I make sure I say hello to them to. After all, they do work here, right?
About the Adjunct By Choice: Randy Eldridge is an adjunct instructor and tutor. He teaches criminal justice courses leading to Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees. He earned a B.A. in Political Science from Capital University and an M.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. Prior to entering the world of teaching, he worked as an Adult Probation officer for Butler County in Ohio. He is a U.S. Army and Desert Storm Veteran, serving four years on active duty. When he is not teaching, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. He’s currently debating whether or not to pursue his Ph.D.