I intend to never grade another paper.
At the height of my adjunct "career" teaching writing, world religions, and general humanities courses, I taught up to 12 courses a year at three different institutions in the Houston area. I juggled about 400 students a year in my courses, and each student wrote three to five papers. Do the math — that’s a lot of grading.
I worked that oxymoronic full-time adjunct load for a decade — in addition to teaching a few continuing-ed courses just for kicks and extra income. In short, I taught more students and graded more papers in a decade than most of my full-time colleagues at the same university would teach in their entire careers.
For a while, I was sort of an adjunct guru. I self-published a book called How to Survive as an Adjunct Lecturer: An ntrepreneurial Strategy Manual and ended up writing a monthly advice column on The Adjunct Track for The Chronicle. I also provided coaching to other non-tenure-track instructors to help them figure out ways to work the system and squeeze as much money out of it as possible. The idea was to come as close as they could to an income that honored their knowledge and credentials — or to at least not have to wait tables on nonteaching days to make ends meet.
I did well financially. I made my mortgage every month and managed to save a little. But I shoveled my share of hate mail from people who said I was justifying an exploitative system when, really, all I was trying to do was find a way to survive (maybe even thrive for a few moments) within it.
I am writing to apply for your posted position as an assistant professor of philosophy. I believe that my specific qualifications — my postgraduate teaching experience, publications, and professional activities — constitute a very good fit for this position. One might even say a really rad fit.
But I wonder if we might go a tad off script for a moment and speak plainly? Then you can take a crack at my sparkling dossier.
First, it is important to say that I already am a philosopher. And yes, as you may surmise, I’m looking to move from one relatively junior-ish post to a slightly less junior-ish post. In so doing, I'm trying to follow the usual professional arc that will allow me to nurse my love of philosophy and teaching in a manner that jives with the capitalist paradigm of contemporary higher education. We’re all doing well enough following that arc. But it has come at a cost, no?
"If you look closer," sang Smokey Robinson, “it’s easy to trace the tracks of my tears.” Clearly he never experienced the flow of tears at the end of a semester.
Whenever midterm and final exams loom, students’ tears during faculty office hours become as commonplace as requests for extra credit and do-overs. Low grades produce desperation and despair. In deciding how to respond, professors first must identify the reasons for the crying because not all tears are equal.
Some students cry because they lack the necessary skills to succeed in the course. Others are dealing with the stresses of life and, particularly if they're young, haven't developed coping mechanisms. There are tears from students who are dealing with the very real traumas of microaggressions, racism, homophobia, rape, and the failure of their institutions to recognize those pressures or listen to their voices. And there are tears that surely produce less empathy — from the grade grubbers crushed by a B or the slackers who simply didn't do the reading but know how to turn on the waterworks.
I got a job offer. Yay! But I only got one offer, and I’m a brand new Ph.D., so I assume I don’t really have the standing to negotiate anything. That’s only for people who have competing offers or amazing records, right?
This is one of the most common misunderstandings about negotiating. Every candidate has the potential to negotiate elements of a job offer. That’s true even if you have no competing offer, and are a brand new Ph.D. The only reason ever to hesitate on this front is if you’ve picked up red flags about the institution being one that possibly rescinds offers.
"Alternative facts" have gotten quite a bad rap lately, which — while understandable — is a shame. Because virtually any argument worthy of the name involves competing sets of facts. That's why it's an argument, not a hug-fest. And to pretend otherwise is actually counterproductive, especially if we want our students to be able to engage in constructive arguments.
Take trial lawyers, for example. To exonerate their clients, defense attorneys often present alternative theories, based on alternative facts, most of which are actually facts. Perhaps the accused can prove he was never at the crime scene, even though his blood was found on the victim. In its deliberations, the jury must weigh these seemingly disparate facts — although what they may really be judging is which lawyer made the better argument. Much the same is true of political debates.
The student pulled her test tube out of the ice bucket for the 10th time, and then slumped in despair at the sight of the clear liquid.
She shoved the sample back into the ice and put her head in her hands. Nestled in the ice next to her own, her classmates’ test tubes were full of fluffy white crystals, the result of a four-hour lab on recrystallization. Clearly, at some point in the afternoon, this student had done something different from her peers, and now not a speck was visible in her test tube.
The recrystallization lab is like most of the experiments we do in my "Chemistry 3A" section: There is a single desired outcome, intended to teach a chemical concept or a laboratory technique. But of course experiments can go awry in myriad ways, as anyone who has spent any time in a laboratory knows.
When this semester started, I spent the first two weeks tracking down students — via email and other methods — so that I could invite them to use the digital tools I’ve assigned for my online survey course on U.S. history. I could have just sent emails to their university accounts but, in my experience, most students hardly ever check their campus email. Getting the address that they do check was the first step in trying to bring my course to where students live their already-busy digital lives.
Introducing education into their digital lives sometimes requires teaching students how to use new web tools. For example, I’ve found a messaging app called Slack to be much more effective than any existing learningmanagement system discussion board. A key reason why: It has a cell phone app that notifies users of messages at the very top of their screens. I certainly don’t expect students to respond to class messages instantly, but those notifications serve as a constant reminder: You are part of an online class, and that class requires your eventual participation.
Search committees have a list of six to 10 usual questions they ask every candidate interviewing to be a department chair or dean. There is the icebreaker question ("What attracts you about joining us here at Prairie Home University?"), the leadership question ("How do you deal with conflict?"), and the fund-raising question ("What is the largest private gift you have asked for and
But of all the questions asked and answered, the one that has proved to be the most complex is the diversity
I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been teaching at my best this semester. Oh, there have been some good classes. And I think I'm finally getting a handle on the one group of students who don't want to speak up in class. But in general it feels like I'm going through the motions a little bit, not fully reaching as many students as I have in the past, talking too much from the front of the room. I have a theory as to why this is happening.
This is my fourth semester at the University of Iowa teaching rhetoric to mostly first-year students. After years of adjuncting, it's great to be able to teach the same course again and again. I'm able to learn from my mistakes and improve semester to semester. Even better, prepping for class takes less and less time each semester. I keep an archive of class activities from previous semesters in Scrivener, and I can quickly arrange a few of them to make up a whole class period. It's great.
Tenure for professors has been under pressure, and even the subject of outright attacks, for a long time. But the pace of the assault has accelerated lately, and there is no more significant canary in the coal mine than events in Wisconsin over the past two years.
Tenure protections have been systematically eviscerated by the Republican-dominated government in Wisconsin — the former home of progressivism and still home to one of the nation’s most distinguished research universities in Madison and to many popular branch campuses throughout the state. Tenure protections were removed from state law, watered-down protections became part of system policy subject to regents’ control, and administrators gained greater power over posttenure reviews.
By tradition, faculty refer to each other as “colleagues,” not “coworkers,” and value a collegial environment where they share responsibility for a common mission. I would argue that a collegial environment is also one where colleagues share responsibility for one another. But these days, it seems, the solitary, competitive, and even cutthroat nature of academic culture makes it unusually hard for that form of collegiality to manifest.
Academia has become a zero-sum game— which makes it more likely that faculty will feel slighted, even cheated, when they believe someone else is getting something extra without merit. And who can blame them? The structure of higher education today makes everyone feel cheated.
The longer I teach (I’m now in my 32nd year) the more I’m convinced that the best thing we can do for our students is help them learn to think for themselves.
That involves explaining what critical thinking actually means — a step I fear we often skip — as well as equipping them with the requisite skills. That’s why I recommend talking to students on the first day of class about critical thinking. What is it? Why is it important? How can they learn to do it?
What follows is an example of my opening-day remarks. For graduate students and Ph.D.s new to teaching, if this talk resonates with you, feel free to adapt it for your own classrooms.
I am a white tenure-track faculty member, and I consider myself a progressive. I want to be an ally to my students of color, but I’m not sure how. I don’t want to make mistakes and offend anyone. Is it better for me to say nothing, if I’m not an expert on race? I feel so helpless. Do you have any advice?
I will answer this as best I can, with the goal of opening up further dialogue. I want to be clear that I am a white person addressing this column to other white people who are teaching. I do not mean to exclude anyone, or to claim authority about the experiences or needs of people of color. It is my firm conviction that the time has come for white people to speak up about racism, and to educate one another about anti-racist activism, and not leave the burden of this work on the shoulders of people of color. I am drawing inspiration here from a group I am involved with, Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national organization dedicated to mobilizing white people in anti-racism work. You can probably find a local chapter in your town, and I urge you to do so, as SURJ is not only a resource for training and information but also a location to connect with like-minded people, which is essential at a time when faculty are increasingly called upon to protect vulnerable students.
Like most professors who teach composition, I require my students to write multiple drafts — three, in fact — of each essay. That’s not because three is a magic number. It’s just a number that fits well with the amount of time we have in the semester, and it reinforces the idea of working through multiple drafts. If there is a "secret" to good writing, I’m convinced, multiple drafts is it.
And, like most of my colleagues, I regularly have students work in "peer editing" or "workshopping" sessions where they read and offer comments on one another’s work.
None of this is groundbreaking pedagogy. In fact, it’s pretty standard fare for a college-level writing course.
Almost any administrative position in higher education today — department chair, dean of admissions, facilities manager — comes with a heavy workload and a lot of stress. Yet the average docent at your local children’s museum has received far more training than those of us in campus administration. It’s sink or swim: We learn by doing (or not doing) and surviving (or drowning).
A case in point: A professor I know in the social sciences stepped into a chair’s job after 15 years on the faculty. She described the experience as "the worst time of my life" as she collided with a torrent of paperwork and email, budget woes, assessment reports, risk-management demands, and centrifugal forces tugging her away from her own research, teaching, and family.
Question (from "Luanne"): I’m in a bullpen office with half a dozen adjuncts, some of us sharing desks, all of us crowded, overworked, and demoralized. But that’s not what I’m writing about.
"Dana" manages to make it so much worse with his chronic complaining. Every day there’s a new crisis — noisy plumbing, bad drivers, barking dogs. He hates the weather in our part of the country, and despises the local politics. His students, he rails, are all morons. And we, his colleagues, will never measure up to the world-class professors he knew at his Ivy League grad school.
He’s known as "Dana the Complainer" and making fun of him behind his back is a common pastime. I’m not happy with that. (I’m probably called "Luanne the Pollyanna.") I can’t get any work done, with his fuming and stomping around.
As I've mentioned before, my 7-year-old daughter takes piano lessons. One of the biggest challenges has been getting her to play for herself, not for her parents. Often I'll ask her how she thought she played a song and I'll get a shrug in return. She plays, but she doesn't listen to herself play. That lack of listening, I fear, is a sign that she's just playing because we're making her.
Many of the teaching tips I've suggested in this column have been meant to encourage your students to take responsibility for their learning. For active-learning strategies to really work, I've argued, we need students to buy in completely to our courses. They need to want to learn for themselves — not for us or a grade. To accomplish that, we can invite students to take some control over the syllabus. We can turn course policies into collaborative projects, in which students have an equal say in determining important aspects of the course. We can encourage students to articulate their goals for the course, rather than just expect them to meet ours. And we can design our courses to make sure we haven't foreclosed any of those possibilities.
When approached for a letter in the bleak midwinter of recommendation-writing season, many of us wish for responsible ways to say, like Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, “I prefer not to.” Yet in weak or guilty moments, we may accede to a student’s plea and then spend hours racking our brains for something to say.
It’s hard for a scrupulous teacher to resist the fear that, in declining to write a recommendation, you may be torpedoing someone’s professional life. Ultimately, though, a student’s application materials will speak for themselves and the professional world will make its own judgment, fairly or not. Disappointment, even heartbreak, is a reality from which even the deserving can’t always be shielded. And you aren’t obligated to make a case for a student whom you can’t, in good conscience, support.
For many young women and girls in Canada, their opportunity to participate equally in Canadian society and their right to lead successful and fulfilling lives may be disrupted by acts of gender-based violence. Acknowledging the serious impact of such violence on young women and girls, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women (“the Committee”) agreed on 8 March 2016, to conduct a study on violence against young women and girls in Canada.
As a teacher, every now and then we come across a class with an abundance of energy. Sometimes so much energy that teaching
seems like an impossible mission. Students fidget with their hands, feet, dance in their stools and engage in constant side
conversations with their classmates.
Any time is a good time to tell a secret or share an interesting dinosaur fact. (Don't we all love learning about dinosaurs?) Last
year, I inherited a first grade class that fit the description above. They were curious, they were bright, but it was clear from day one that they needed help to channel their excess energy. I didn’t want or expect them to sit statue-still; much to the contrary. I always encourage active learning, collaboration, and ongoing participation in the classroom.