New Adjunct: The Similarities Between Poker & Teaching Part-Time


melissaBy Melissa Miller, Ed.D., M.Ed.
My husband and I belong to a poker group that meets about once per month. It’s a casual game, and we also take turns cooking dinner for each other. Last night was our turn to host, and as we were eating and playing, I pondered the ways in which the game of poker is similar to my life as a New Adjunct. Although these are two different worlds, some lessons, strategies, and principles run parallel.
Ante: This is paid by each player to ensure “that a player who folds every round will lose money (though slowly), thus providing all players with an incentive, however small, to play the hand…”  This is similar to an investment in the game, and for me, my own education is my investment in the game. I consider this investment previous schooling, as well as on-going professional development.
The Bluff: To bluff is to make a bet or a raise when you know you most likely do not have the winning hand. The goal of bluffing is to eliminate players who can possibly beat your hand. Adjuncts bluff when lecturing – sometimes we put on our “poker face” and act more confident than we are. We may not have perfected our lesson plan, or we may be winging it for some of the lecture – bluffing our way through. But, if used sparingly, this can be a useful tool for a busy New Adjunct.
Call the Clock: When someone “calls the clock” in poker, the player has a set amount of time in which to make up his or her mind, otherwise he or she is out of the game. I often want to “call the clock” on my students. This comes up when students requrest deadline extension after extension. This can also apply when we are given deadlines in our department. Being a New Adjunct requires quick, yet strategic thinking – like a poker player.
Full House: In poker, a full house is the hand with three of a kind and a pair. It’s a solid hand, only beat by four of a kind and a straight flush. In Adjunct parlance, however, a full house is when administration asks you to squeeze in a few extra students on your roster (presumably so they don’t have to open another section). This term can also be used to describe the classroom at the beginning of the term, and then the full house becomes more like a pair when student attendance drops throughout the semester.
The Flop: This is the first three face-up cards on the board in Texas Hold ‘Em. In the Adjunct world, the flop is when a meticulously planned lesson still fails to meet the learning objectives. Students are not understanding or the teaching needs to be adjusted. A mentor of mine once advised, “When the horse is dead, get off of it,” and I apply this to my teaching strategies as well. When things start to flop, I change course.
Ace in the Hole: This can be literally having the ace card in the hole, but can also be the idiom, having an ace up one’s sleeve. This is when you have an Ace face down, and your opponents don’t know of your hidden advantage. Professors have lots of aces in the hole — tools of the trade to use in various situations. I tell my students, many of whom are training to be future teachers, that you must have a bag of tricks, which would be your ace in the hole in a contingency situation. This includes teaching ideas, lesson plan modifications, extra supplies, backups, etc. The ace in the hole gives you flexibility and, in my opinion, separates a weak teacher from an effective educators.
Cashing Out: A favorite term among any professional, this is the exchange of chips for cash when leaving the game. For the Adjunct, this is payday! Not that we don’t love our job for other rewards… but this is my favorite type of reward, obviously.
About the New Adjunct: Dr. Melissa Miller completed her Ed.D. with an emphasis in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. She holds a M.Ed. from Mary Washington University and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Dr. Miller’s professional and research interests include adult and online learning, professional development, and literacy. Presently, Dr. Miller works as an adjunct instructor and an evaluator, while also enjoying her role as a wife and mother.

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