I had just graduated from college and I wasn't sure what I was going to do next: Graduate school? Peace Corps? I didn't know, and I needed an interim job while I figured it out.
I answered an ad in the local paper to be a math tutor for a nearby community college. I got a call-back after the interview—they didn’t need me for a tutor, but there were two math classes starting the following week—would I be willing to teach them? I was very surprised by the offer, but I thought, “What an opportunity!” and said yes almost right away.
And why was this community college willing to hire a 22 year old biology and French major, who had graduated just 4 days previously, to be their new math instructor? I perhaps should have done more inquiring--I knew nothing at that point about the ins and outs of education employment, and the world of being an adjunct instructor.
The job paid very little, but by living in the bedroom of a house I shared with some college friends, I was able to make it work, at least for the short term. I taught evening classes which ended at 9:00 pm, and then had to drive home across town afterwards.
With no office or regular classroom, I held “office hours” on some chairs near the building entry way, providing assistance to students with their math as crowds strolled by.
The perks of the job? I had interesting colleagues, and I did help a lot of students learn some important math.
This turned out not to be enough as I could not support myself. After two quarters as an adjunct instructor, I ended up joining the Peace Corps. At least as a Peace Corps Volunteer I would have health insurance. I taught math while I was in the Peace Corps, and then became a high school science teacher.
Why am I writing about this now? The adjunct issue has recently seen some federal interest. With a surprisingly humorous title for a congressional paper, the “Just-in-Time Professor” report, authored by staff of the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce, notes that 50% of all higher education faculty are now adjuncts. Other estimates put the figure at 60%. The report states that these contingent or adjunct instructors have “no job security from one quarter to the next, work at a piece rate with few or no benefits across multiple workplaces, and far too often struggle to make ends meet.” I’m here to tell you from personal experience that is no exaggeration.
A full time adjunct might make only $21,000 a year, according to a recently posted article about the issue. The work performed by adjunct instructors is critical to our education system—they provide a foundation in basic skills to students who are pursuing two and four year degrees. Adjunct instructors deserve a living wage. It is shocking they do not receive one.