Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Last Call for the Wrong Mailbox

On my last day of teaching, I received this email:

I have received mail with your name on it and our record shows you don’t have a mailbox here at CHC. You are able to pick up your mail from me; I’m available Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm in LADM 167 Facilities Use Office. If you are unable to pick up your mail and would like it mailed to you, please pervert a mail address.

I received this after I'd given my final, met with each student and gave them back their final research paper (worth 25% of their grade and even at that hefty percentage only one student failed completely), when I was sitting in my car trying to decide how to feel about the end of this semester.

Unfortunately, I couldn't "pervert" her a mail address right then because the office was closed, but called this morning and we straightened things out (seems they given my mailbox to another person, ignoring the fact of the original assignment and the label with my name on it, or that an actual person already HAD that mailbox).

 Before that, I stood at the top of what is known at the Aztec Stairs, a long flight of stairs that leads to the Admin Building, where I teach.  The VP of Students, who I have met several times, was coming up the stairs; I waited to say good-bye and we chatted.  Even though I had introduced myself to him yet again as recently as two weeks ago, I realized he had no idea who I was, nor did he ask once.  I decided not to make excuses for him this time.

Before that, when I was addressing my class, I thanked them for their work and in our chit-chatting, asked if there was anything that they could point to as a take-away from this class.  They fell silent.  I know they were trying to think of something, but they were in Finals Week, they were tired, it was the last day, blah blah blah, but still.  Silence.

And before all that,  I'd written to my sister that morning, in response to an article she sent me an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, where an adjunct professor detailed the reasons why he was leaving off teaching in a classroom (he's still doing online teaching).  I'm thinking about not coming back myself, and although this decision feels a bit squishy at this point, I enumerated the reasons to her for leaving, acknowledging first that the incredibly low rate of pay can be a factor:

"But for me, it was also the complete "invisibility" to Admin, to my chair (although he's always very nice when I do see him), and the constant reminder of my non-person status given the number of "staff" luncheons, raffles, potlucks given each year at my institution, for which I have been asked to bring food, contribute to prizes, etc.  A token event was held at the beginning of the year on a Wednesday night at 6:30 for free pizza for the Adjuncts at a local place, a complete turn-off since most adjuncts commute in and leave as soon as they finish on campus.  I think I would have preferred the Chronicle writer's gift of a duffle bag from his chair, instead.

"In addition to the pay and the invisibility, it is the students.  Adjuncts typically teach the lower and lower-than-low division classes as the faculty retain the better classes for themselves (I don't blame them in the least).  And since we get those students right out of high school who typically are working at a 10th grade level, it becomes extremely challenging to maintain morale when the expectations are for "entertainment" like they received in high school.  I joked to my colleague last week that if the pretend percentages are that the students bring 100% and I bring 100%, I felt this semester as if I were bringing 150% to their 50%, yet they probably aren't aware of that ratio.
 "I have had one amazing upper-division English class in my ten years here.  The students were engaged, interesting, generally well-prepared and our class discussions were interesting, thoughtful and fruitful.  I think after teaching that class, I realized what I had been asked to do generally, denigrates my ability and my contribution to the teaching profession.  I've had other bad classes, and that's no reason to throw in the towel, I realize.  But after that great class, something shifted in me and I just didn't want to go through the hoops anymore.  And the fact that only once in ten years have I had a good class is telling. 

"I also firmly believe that until full-time faculty won't put up with the hiring of adjuncts and make their voices heard on this issue, nothing will change.  And I don't foresee that happening.  Ever."
 Since I'm not published (you can call that one of my failures if you want) or in a full-time position (add that to the failure list, although I have tried), I can't expect any more of Higher Ed, right?  It's easy to delegate adjuncts to a position of the great unwashed of the Big U, greedily grabbing those courses thrown to us by kind and well-meaning Admins.  We are not invited to faculty meetings, asked for our opinions.  When they announced the "Part-Timer of the Year," no mention was made of why they were chosen.  Just a name, an invisible person, delivered in a deluge of end-of-year emails.

Perhaps this "perverted" mailbox was a sign, in a weird sort of way.  Perhaps, after too many strange conversations, too many unprepared students, as well as all the other inconsequential stings and cuts, the message from on high was that it is probably time to go invisible for good.


Judy said...

This is a good summary of some of the very significant issues faced--or not faced--by community colleges. Even if there were more recognition, until adjunct professors are shown their value through their pay, education at colleges that balance the budget by underpaying adjuncts (which is all community colleges and an increasing number of four-year schools) will continue to go downhill. They simply cannot attract and/or keep good teachers for poverty wages.

La Asistente said...

So, so sorry. I know how hard you have prepared through the years. Take some time off before making any big decisions.

Whatever you decide will be right for you.