How to Survive as an Adjunct

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Read at the most recent F-Bomb Reading. If you’re in the Denver area on November 12, join us at The Mercury Café at 6:45 p.m. Admission is free and 4 minute open mic flash fiction spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

First, you should lower your expectations. All of them: what you’ll be asked to teach, how much respect you’ll be given, and especially what you’ll be paid. Then cut that in half for a more realistic view. If that doesn’t send you running immediately, congratulations, and welcome to lowest rung of professional academia.

Next, start working on syllabi. You’ll pour hours into them, trying to think of every contingency. Steal prodigiously from those who’ve taught this class before you. Feel a brief pang of guilt when you plagiarize a passage about your strict plagiarism policy. It doesn’t matter—the students won’t read it anyway, and half of the policies will change (either at your hand or the school’s) next semester anyway.

On the first day, you’ll stumble over some of the names on your roster. The students might look at you with contempt for fucking up their name, but they’ll still be calling you “Hey Mister” or “Hey Miss” in week 15, so don’t feel too badly about it. Resist the urge to tell them that about a third of them won’t make it to the end of the semester, even though it’s true. Read them the syllabus so you’ll be able to recite chapter and verse in a few weeks when they ask you about your attendance policy just before their favorite band comes to town—whoops, I mean, their grandmother just died.

Don’t be surprised when they don’t read the assigned chapters or turn in the assignments you spent your nights and weekends crafting. Some of them will, and they’ll go above and beyond your expectations, but that will never be more than 10 percent. Others will meet the bare minimum—that’s fine. They can’t all love learning the way you did, after all. Others will swear they emailed you their homework, and they totally read that assignment, but they accidentally left their book in their girlfriend’s apartment or at the bus stop. Try not to waste too much time or sanity on these losers—they won’t pass anyway.

When your first paycheck comes, take deep breaths. You were advised to lower your expectations, after all. Then, learn to steal office supplies. Wait—not steal. Those office supplies are benefits. All the cheap Bic pens you could ever want are at your disposal, as are paper clips, binder clips, highlighters, index cards, post-it notes, and so on. You can’t take these all at once—that would elicit dirty looks from the hard-working admins who have to restock that shit. But grab a handful whenever you can. Print and copy as much as you dare, but be smart about it. Copy and paste your poetry and short stories to nameless documents so that it shows as printing “Document 1,” not “Poetry Manifesto I Wrote in the Six Minutes of Free Time I Had Last Weekend.” You must always cover your ass.

Speaking of which, keep excellent and detailed records. You’re guaranteed to piss off some entitled little fuck who thinks they deserve an A, even if you haven’t seen them since the second class. Your chair will usually take your side, but they need more than your say-so to shut that entitled little fuck down. Good records are the ammunition they need to put those entitled little fucks in their place.

Try not to get snowed under by stacks of grading, but keep digging if you do (and you will). Stay ahead of your students, even if it’s only a few minutes ahead. Take all the professional development classes you can, if for no other reason than the extra money and free food. Submit your grades on time, or you’ll end up on the naughty list. Above all else, refuse to take the bullshit students try to sling at you. Teaching is not a democracy, and you are the fearless leader.

If you hang in there, your chairs will recognize your service. They’ll give you better classes at better hours. You’ll get to know the content better, and your jokes will get more laughs… probably. Expect that your family will never understand why your superiors don’t just wave a magic wand and make you a full-timer, no matter how many times you explain how these things work (or don’t). But most of all, hang in there. When you get things running, teaching is the best job in the world. All you have to do is survive it.

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