New Adjuncts Need To Learn To Ask For Help — Even If It's Hard

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By Kathy McBrayer, M.Ed., SPHR
The academic calendar has a regular rhythm.  Fall, winter, spring, summer – the school year keeps moving along.  I was reminded of this cadence during a recent trip to a college town here in Texas.  The campus and town of this state school, exploding with the energy of 50 thousand students during the fall and spring semesters, was so quiet I found it eerie.  It is no longer a peak time on campus; summer is quickly approaching.
Now the professor’s calendar varies slightly from the student’s schedule.  When exams are over and the kids are running for the door, the professor gets to grade papers.  So it is with me.  While the streets and sidewalks are vacant, I have been hard at work grading final exams, calculating final grades, and finishing up administrative paperwork.  There is much to do when closing out a semester – just reading through the 5 page end-of-session email from the academic office is enough to make me dizzy.  These “to do” items are not that difficult, but procedures and processes not only change from semester to semester, but also change from university to university.  Grade book formats, online system navigation, final hand out submissions, email archive deadlines; why do I feel like I am wondering around in the dark?  Why can’t I remember how I did this during faculty training?
With papers stacking up and deadlines looming, I committed to being courageous.  I was going to have to ask for help (yikes!).  As a teacher, I am used to giving help, but not so comfortable asking for help.  Yet I swallowed my pride, made peace with that “newbie” feeling again, did as much as I could on my own, and then reached out to someone in the academic office for guidance.  And guess what? I got that ever-polite, oh-so-sweet email back that was essentially useless.  The note was crafted just right as to not be totally rude, but the message was unmistakable – what you have handed in so far is wrong; do it the “right” way, and if you have any questions, let me know.  I asked myself, “What kind of reply was that?”
Of course I had questions, which is why I’d sent the email in the first place!
I heeded my own advice and resisted the temptation to fire off a nasty email back, and instead gave myself until the next morning to decide what to do next.  Do I press the point with this same person, or do I take the high road and seek out someone else?  While hounding, I mean “following up” with this specific individual probably would have been more fun, I decided to seek help from someone else.  The result?  A knowledgeable and friendly advocate stepped in, who not only walked me through my deliverables, but also assured me that it is a common feeling among New Adjuncts to feel a bit lost in the dark.
As I reflect on the events of the last few days, I must admit that most faculty and staff that I have run across in my adjunct work have been more than willing to help.  My encounter with this one less-than-helpful individual has truly been the exception, not the rule.  And, the incident did remind me of an important point:  I am not alone on my adjunct journey.  I need to ask for help as well as offer help throughout the semester.
I’ll get right on that, as soon as summer break is over.
About the New Adjunct: Kathy McBrayer is currently in the dissertation phase of her doctoral studies in Organization and Management at Capella University. She holds a M.Ed. from Texas Woman’s University and a B.A. in Business Management from Northwood University. Ms. McBrayer’s professional and research interestsinclude human resource issues that arise during major change initiatives, such as outsourcing and mergers and acquisitions.  Presently, Ms. McBrayer works as an adjunct instructor and manages her own consulting firm.  She enjoys cooking, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

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