K is for Kids?

(If you’re here from Facebook, please click through to the blog or I won’t see your comments and likes.)

I taught on traditional university campuses as a graduate student between 2003 and 2009 and as a professor from 2009-2012. In Sept 2012 I made the transition to adjuncting at a regional campus. People often assume my disenchantment happened because I was an adjunct and exploited, but really teaching part-time was part of my plan to transition out.

The university paid its adjuncts comparatively well. If I’d taught two courses per term, I’d have had insurance.  Earning over $4,500 for teaching a three-hour course with no other responsibilities isn’t a bad deal if you’ve had the course planned for years.

I think it’s important to be frank about compensation and choices.

When I complained about my job, it wasn’t about my experience. I also struggled to communicate that to people. I was on the receiving end of so much advice about teaching, but I think I was a good teacher.

Really I was frustrated on behalf of my students. Frustrated because they had a professor who had no consistent place to meet with them. Frustrated because they hadn’t been prepared to read and write at a college level. Frustrated because they had bought into a promise of advancement through education that I wasn’t sure I believed in myself.

They weren’t entitled brats (even when they annoyed me, as all students will do). I was teaching courses where at least half the participants were above thirty years old. Most had children and jobs and so many responsibilities. Quite a few had seen combat in our nation of perpetual war.

I didn’t necessarily like or relate to my students — we often had strong and apparent disagreements about faith and politics. We had very different experiences and world views. But I aimed to give them course work and reading concise enough to compete with everything else happening in their life while still providing a legitimate college experience.

I’ve heard college administrators and faculty described as in loco parentis, a phrase I first heard from my dad, a public school teacher. We imagine lush, resort like campuses. My campus was behind a Family Dollar and had one coffee shop at the top of a stairwell.

A few years ago I had a conflict with a former professor of mine, on Facebook of course. I was a bit in the wrong, in as much as I posted about it. I was confused because a student asked, “Do we have class on Thursday?” the Thursday before Easter.

College professors know how breaks work. On the other side of the academic year, Thanksgiving is a Thursday. In Michigan, we still had class on Wednesday, but very few students came. In Ohio, we didn’t have class on Wednesday, so very few students came on Tuesday. In Mississippi, we had the full Thanksgiving week off, so many students were absent on the Friday before. Clearly you need to be where you’re going when vacation starts, not use of a day of it for travel. 

So, I made the mistake of saying something like “Apparently we now need a day to travel for Good Friday.” Being you know, Jewish, I was happy I’d looked at the calendar and at least guessed that her request had something to do with Easter.I’d done my footwork, I thought.

My past professor commented about how hard it was to be Christian on a campus, and how she’d never questioned a student who would be gone for Yom Kippur.  The student never mentioned Maundy Thursday, but someone in my Facebook feed did. I didn’t know it was a holiday. By simply stating “Thursday,” the student assumed I knew what she was talking about — and so did the professor who chastised me.

The entire post, essentially, revealed Christian hegemony but being conflict averse, I never stated that. (Also I’m not sure it’s legitimately hard to be Christian anywhere in Mississippi, but my mind is open to others’ experiences.)

Another portion of the conflict has stayed with me. Somewhere in there, several academics described how we’re responsible for so much more than history education as faculty. We’re helping “kids” learn how to live in the world.

The student who asked me was at least 40 years old. Sure, I could “teach” her something about diversity through history teaching itself. But as a professor teaching unquestionably adult students, I did not consider myself in loco parentis. 

I have made the best, and longest lasting connections with students who were by no means childrenIf I had spoken to that student about the content of her request (which I now wish I had done) I wouldn’t have been doing so as an older mentor, I’d have been doing so as a younger teacher.

I never felt entitled to teach those students about life. They had lived as much if not more so than I had. I shared with them, considerably, the struggles of having a family and working, of trying to figure out next steps when the old path wasn’t working, of having come from places where opportunities most certainly did not abound. But wisdom about making it in this world? I was earning $9,000 a year and even more lost than many of them about my next steps. Commiserate with them about life? I surely did that, but teach them? Only in as much as they also taught me.



One thought on “K is for Kids?

  1. Wow! I would like to explore this wide topic with you. –That’s easy, we LIVE next door.
    When I was in grad school, I experimented with writing student tests to allow those students to reach deeply into those Sociology 101 concepts.
    I didn’t complete the PhD. I got remarried and moved 90 miles away (and the weekly commute after two years stopped).
    Whether we teach in a classroom of younger or older students, we do impart or direct or kill time with our students. And, then there is actual parenting. …and a book club or two.
    Every day I choose to learn or try to engage with one or more people. Yes, many are put off by my search (they are resting, perhaps) for ideas and SURPRISES.
    I think that you like surprises, too!


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