Every semester, aside from asking my students how old they think I am based on appearances (the medium age-guess is 24), I ask them if they think I lead a financially rich life. Most of them have an idea of what a professor’s lifestyle encompasses: large mansions, a room dedicated to books with worn binding, a closet full of pantsuits and high heels, and a passport filled with stamps from foreign countries.
That description is right––according to shows like Showtime’s Shameless, which is a show I am quite a fan of, save for a few of its problematic characters. Lip Gallagher’s professor, Helene, fits the stereotypical academic––sexy, articulate, and attracted to young men. Alan Rosenberg’s Professor Youens, is the romanticized alcoholic, a rugged unkempt academic who gets by primarily because he’s genius with a moral compass.
I’m slightly annoyed when these descriptions are then imposed upon myself. No. Actually? It pisses me off that the media perpetuates these depictions as common truths about academics and academia.
“Unfortunately,” I begin my lecture…
I ask myself where I went wrong in choosing my career.
Unfortunately, class, I am a 31-year-old woman who lives at home with her parents, and makes $64 an hour, but can only work 75% of full-time professors without medical or dental benefits or retirement. I am expected to hold office hours, but only get paid for 30 minutes of those office hours for half of my hourly salary. Some students stay in my office for extended amounts of time, and I don’t kick them out because that’s what I’m there for. I share my office space with a few other adjuncts who complain about the fact that there is no fresh coffee, that the refrigerator smells, and that my conversations with students are too loud, and that if I somehow don’t control any of these things, then I cannot use a shared cubical because it disturbs those who really need to work.
After class, when I return to my home office––my childhood bedroom — usually with piles of laundry on the floor and chocolate wrappers peppered around my highlighters, I answer more emails. Student emails very from the polite reminder to the demanding: “Can you give me a C? I worked so hard.” I roll my eyes, the tears revolving backward into my subconscious. I think: this kid only showed up a few times, and turned in every essay without a works cited page. Why do they deserve anything? And when I say “no,” I am met with threats to petition, and usually a very angry Rate My Professor review. The tears resurface when my mom enters my room and brings up the latest review. She ends with asking if I am doing my job right.
I remind myself that the sole reason why I’m doing what I do, is to instill that value into every person I meet.
Truthfully? I don’t know. I ask myself where I went wrong in choosing my career. I thought providing adults with education was valuable. It IS valuable. Learning should never end at high school, and anyone who thinks that hasn’t met an educator who has given them nurturing foundation to understand the importance of knowledge; it isn’t just a piece of paper.
I remind myself that the sole reason why I’m doing what I do, is to instill that value into every person I meet. You can be 20,30,40,50, 60, 70, 80, etc., with a dream. Just because you went to college in your 20s for journalism, doesn’t necessarily mean you should be nor want to be a journalist forever. You can absolutely play piano and be a concert pianist in your 30s, or become an artist or a writer — learn something you never could because as a child your parents didn’t get “it.” As an adult, you can appreciate the value of a semi-colon much more than you did as a second grade or third grader. Learning matters. It’s not all grammar and equations. Learning is very much at the core of living.
But it doesn’t always feel like I’m fulfilling that mission. The little sum of money in my savings, the lack of ownership — the things that supposedly really matter, like marriage, children, and stability, are so far out of reach that I don’t know if I’m doing my job right as a person. I read articles that speak so harshly about millennials, and of 30-year-somethings who mooch off of their parents.
A friend from college (well, now a blocked, ex-friend) actually took her time to tell me this on Facebook a few months back. Despite my degrees, my experiences, and the traveling I have been fortunate to do, it didn’t matter because I was a mooching millennial who did not know what “hard work” meant.
At the end of the day, I am a lazy a**hole who “expects” her parents to do everything. Because I live with them. Because my job doesn’t provide me with a salary to live off of.
Adjuncts work multiple jobs and different campuses. Adjuncts work almost everyday out of the year. Adjuncts work when they get home, stay up late into the night and prepare lessons. It never ends.
As an educator, my evaluations are perfect, and I’m extremely active both on and off campus, scouring as many resources to supplement my class with while preparing lectures for workshops, while trying to lead a life of my own. Yet, it’s never enough. At the end of the day, I am a lazy a**hole who “expects” her parents to do everything. Because I live with them. Because my job doesn’t provide me with a salary to live off of.
I might go on unemployment, as so many adjuncts do in the summer and winters instead of filling their passports with stamps. I’m still one of the lucky ones, though. Others end up sleeping in their cars, or worse, become addicts. They become the stereotypes I so avidly run from.
What do I expect my students, or you dear reader, to learn from this? Why discuss this on the first day? The system is broken. Your professors are overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated. Their mental health — addictions and what have you — stem from the inability to provide for themselves, and from the students and educational systems which exploit them.
I want you to come into my class knowing I am a human being with needs, with a life, with hopes and dreams of my own. I want you to walk out of my class equipped with the knowledge to write arguments that make waves — to change our world for the better. I want you to write a story about an adjunct who mattered. Please show the world that we are not just corrupt individuals who have no real skill-set aside from manipulation.