A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN ADJUNCT INSTRUCTOR
by Arthur Turfa
Catrin Powers glanced at her watch and realized she had ten minutes’ worth of things to say and only five minutes left in class. Frantically she reminded students to check online for the assignment and emphasized when it was due in the Dropbox on the class page.
“I will not accept any hard copy assignments,” she reminded the class. ‘See you on Wednesday! Take care and e-mail me if you have a question.” About 20 students made ready to leave Room 139 in Montgomery Hall. Catrin logged out of the computer and began putting things into her briefcase, which she would then place in the long-handed carry-all.
“Dr. Powers, do you have a minute?” Keyonna Blakely a 24-year-old African-American student was Catrin’s best student. “I want to ask something about the next assignment.”
Catrin placed her briefcase in the cart and stood up straight. ”You sure can, Keyonna.” A tired smile crossed her face.
“Since the author of the article uses first-person narration, is it all right if I do in my assignment?”
Normally Catrin would have said not to do that ever, but she had been teaching long enough to relent at times. And the author did talk about his own family. Keyonna could write in the first person and still maintain an academic tone.
“This time it would be good for you to experiment. Go ahead.”
Keyonna smiled and nodded, shaking her shoulder-length braids a little. See you, Dr. Powers.”
DeVon Mumford remained standing at his seat along the back wall. “Why did you give me a D on the assignment?”
Catrin felt herself tense. He was a problem student, two years out of high school, and taking English 102 for the second time.
“DeVon, you are still not addressing the assignment. You were supposed to critique the author’s argument, but instead you gave me your opinion on the topic of the article. Your structure is weak, and you are still writing in fragments.” She walked over to him, and pointed to something in a printout of his last submission. “Not ever possible. Ask too many times.” “Here you have no subjects. Fragments again.”
There was a slight pause, then DeVon looked sideways. “That’s an opinion,” he told her, stressing the last word. A corner of his mouth began to smile, but he maintained his tough-guy attitude.
“Any instructor in the English Department would tell you the same thing, DeVon. In fact, any instructor at the College.”
DeVon picked up his notebook and textbooks and walked away. Catrin made her way past the students entering the classroom for a History 201, pulling her cart through the twists and turns of Montgomery. When she was outside, she had a relatively clear path across the lawn towards the Humanities building, officially Ferguson Office Building. Clear, but not direct. Concrete pathways radiated from Montgomery like spokes on a half-wheel. The most direct of them did not directly lead across the parking lot to the West door of Ferguson that Catrin used to go down the hall to Room 134 where the adjuncts clustered. Once in the parking lot, Catrin had to shift to her left, careful of the cars searching for a parking place and the pedestrians, mainly students.
By the time she reached Ferguson, Catrin was sweating in spite of the morning cool. Her arms and legs ached from pulling the cart and holding onto her water bottle. By day’s end, her lower back would also ache, since Catrin would make that trip two more times. Mondays and Wednesdays three classes in Montgomery. Tuesdays and Thursdays four more in Watley, in the other direction and even further from Ferguson. Another semester and she would likely be in another campus across town for a class or two. It depended on what and where the full-timers wanted to teach.
Room 134 was in the center of Ferguson’s ground floor. Catrin passed Sally Hansen’s office on the way. She was conferring with a student but briefly looked at Catrin and smiled a greeting. Catrin parked her cart in a corner and was glad to see that the desktop on the end was free. During the day the five desktops might be filled with adjuncts from various departments, some there most of the day, some not. Evenings the adjuncts who taught high school came in. There were not many of them, and Catrin rarely taught an evening class. She might be entering grades though when they came in. Over two-thirds of the classes as Broad River Community College were taught by adjuncts, working for $2,000 a class before taxes.
When she settled into her chair (after shifting her weight around a little), Catrin felt not only tired, but also wistful. If the saying “Plan to Be Where You Want to Be the Rest of your Career When You are 40” is true, she would clinically depressed. Catrin had hoped that her PhD. would have landed her a tenure-track at the mid-sized four-year college or university. Perhaps she even would be on the masthead of an 18th Century British Literature journal and contributing articles to another one or two. Catrin’s phone chimed, indicating a message. It was from her middle-school daughter Virginia.
MOM- I NEED LUNCH MONEY!
All caps again, despite Catrin telling her time and time again.
“Virginia, just charge it. Why didn’t you make lunch like I told you to?”
“I WAS running late. Dad said he would take care of the lunch bill.”
“I will text him later. “ Catrin was multi-tasking, logging on to the Broad River CC server,
“The school lunch won’t kill you.”
“If I don’t come home Mom, you will KNOW WHY.”
The blue and yellow screen told Catrin she was in. She had auto-saved her login and password, and she debated contacting her ex, Carl Steffens right then. She decided against it. He was co-director of Adult Ed in a nearby school district, and worked afternoons and evenings. He would be shaking the cobwebs out of his head from the previous night’s drinking, and would not want to hear that he messed up again. Catrin would text him later.
When she saw the e-mail from Dana Edington, Catrin stopped for a split second. ‘Could this be the one I am waiting for? The subject line gave her an answer “Senior Lecturer” Catrin paused for a second time and looked out of the window at the hydrangea bushes outside of the window, warmed by the mid-morning sun. The Senior Lecturer position had been newly-created, and Catrin, having applied for a full-
time instructor position and being turned down as many times, had seized this opportunity like a drowning person would a life preserver. There was a promise of a pay-raise. She knew that such positions at four-year schools paid reasonably well. While not a tenure track, they at least offered stability. Even a modest bump of say, $5,000 more than the $28,000 a year she got from teaching 14 courses a year (maybe even an extra one or two in the summer) would be appreciated. Maybe it would be more of a raise? And maybe after a year or so as Senior Lecturer, she could parlay that into a position at a four-year school. There were a few in the area within driving distance…
Clicking on the message, Catrin read:
“Hi Catrin! We finally have made a selection and would like to talk with you today at 5:00 p.m., after your last class. Can you come by the office? Julia will be there also.” Catrin immediately typed “Wonderful news, Dana! I will come by then! Thanks- -C” She allowed herself some optimism. If this were to be one of those, “Sorry, but we found a more qualified candidate” meetings, Julia would not need to be there. Why waste TWO full-timers’ time? Catrin had some respect for Dana as a professional. She had been at the university and promised a tenure-track position, only to lose out to a male candidate related to one of the Regents. Dana then came to Broad River as an adjunct, went full-time a year later, and now was well-positioned to eventually move from department head to a higher administrative position. But Julia Winslow was another story. She had hitched her wagon to Dana’s star and never failed to agree with whatever Dana suggested. Her red hair was coiffed like Dana’s, in an imitation of Rachel from “Friends”. Whatever Dana wore for jewellery one day would be imitated the next day by her acolyte.
All of that was tolerable, but Julia never let adjuncts forget that they were second-class citizens. “What a shame you couldn’t teach that 200-Level Brit Lit course, Catrin,” she would say in a false, soothing voice. “But we NEED you in that 101-102 sequence.” Another dig was comments like, “I have to go to a department meeting now. Be glad you adjuncts don’t have to worry about that!”
Catrin did some of her grading, and then realized she had to get back to Montgomery for her next class. When she passed by Sally’s office, she stopped wheeling her cart. Sally was
“Guess what I am doing at 5:00 p.m. today?”
Sally looked up from her copy of the Little, Brown Essential Handbook, her mouth opening wide like her blue eyes in amazement, “The Senior Lectureship?” Catrin nodded quickly. “We’ll talk more at lunch! Wonderful!”
There wasn’t exactly a spring in Catrin’s step as she when back to Montgomery for her next two classes. Not with pulling that heavy cart. Both classes flowed a little better than usual; Catrin felt she really had a handle on things. After lunch was her ENG 101; she would need a little time after lunch with Sally to review, but she could handle it. About ninety minutes later Catrin retraced her steps back to Sally’s office in Fergus. She had already unpacked her lunch: salad and fruit with a bottle of spring water. Catrin put her
cart next to the green easy chair along the side wall and sat down wearily. After a moment she took out her own lunch, consisting of leftovers from last night’s dinner. She was too tired to go next door to the break room to reheat them in the microwave. Sally took a bite out of her apple and chewed it. “Dana AND Julia herself! Don’t you rate!” There was a twinkle in her eyes and she smiled broadly.
”Maybe Dana wants a witness,” Catrin said while spearing a piece of chicken with her fork… “Whatever it takes for me to get the Senior Lectureship.”
Sally nodded. She knew how important it was to Catrin, and she also felt some of the alienation from the rest of the department even though she was a full-timer. Her expertise was in the teaching of writing; she coordinated the ENG 100 courses, which were non-credit remedial courses. Each year there were more of them needed. Far from glamorous, people like Dana and Julia refused to teach any of them. Catrin wiped her mouth with a napkin. Enrolment is up. Over 9,000. I figure they can afford to give a decent raise to Senior Lecturers.” She paused for a moment. “Do other departments have them, Sally?”
Truth be told, Sally had more friends in other departments than her own. “Math had one or two last year, History talked about it, but I don’t know for sure. There are no hard and fast rules. Each department does their own thing.”
An inner shudder ran through Catrin’s tired body. ‘That was not good news. There needs to be standardization.’ Still, she wanted to be optimistic, desperately wanted to be so. ”Maybe when there are enough of them, the big shots will want to set some college-wide standards.” Sally held her oatmeal cookie right before her mouth. “That would make sense to me,” she agreed. “It’s relatively new, and I don’t think they have considered the big picture.” She took a bite out of her cookie, swallowed it and added, “But it would be good for you to get in the program.”
For a few minutes they chatted about Virginia, Sally’s dogs, and local news items. Their
next classes were both in Montgomery, and so across the parking lot they went. At the double
doors leading into the building, Sally told Catrin,” Let me know how it goes! Give me a call
or a text!”
Catrin promised that she would, and wheeled her cart around the rush of students and some
When she reflected back upon the day, the afternoon class was little more than a blur to Catrin. It seemed as though she appeared in a movie about her life. This was her best class; they did the reading and kept off of their cell phones. There were several Keyonnas and no DeVons. Several of them were excellent writers, and the rest improved week by week.
The class ended at 2:50. Since there was not another class scheduled in the room immediately, Catrin was able to conference with a few students who needed some guidance. When the last one left, Catrin entered her attendance into the classroom desktop right away, before she forgot. After four unexcused absences instructors could drop a student. Sally said there was some talk about the College dropping attendance requirements. The very thought of that sent chills up and down Catrin’s spine.
‘Why would they want to even consider that?’ Catrin asked herself as she wheeled her cart back to Ferguson. She knew that Broad Rover CC had a slight decline in students last year; enrollment was slightly over 9,000, down 600 or so from the previous year. More important was the falling graduation numbers. Some prospective students might not pursue an Associates or certificate program if graduation was iffy. Students from the better high school in the area sent more students to four-year schools. Some administrators thought that the attendance policy was too strict. By doing away with it, the graduation rates would rise. However, the level of students would lower a bit, and that would make it even harder to attract good students.
At this time of day, the parking lot was like a NASCAR race track. Catrin had to come to a complete stop several times as cars and trucks hurried past her. She reached Ferguson much relieved and headed to Room 134. There was enough time before her meeting upstairs with Dana and Julia to finish reading assignments and enter grades. Maybe Catrin would have time to call Virginia quickly.
For about an hour Catrin worked, oblivious to the comings and goings around her. This was the time that the adjuncts who taught evening classes came into Ferguson to check their mail down the hall and to jump on one of the available desktops in the cubicles. About twenty to five Matt Varese came in, and greeted Catrin with a cheery, “How goes it, Doc?”
Catrin stopped typing and turned a little sideways. She was always glad to see Matt.” Another day, another dollar before taxes,” she smiled. “And how is Dr. Varese this day?” Matt put his briefcase down by one of the cubicles, and sat at a table with his Subway meal.
“Actually, not too bad for a Monday.” He took a sip from his large iced tea. “I gave a test today. Love doing that on Mondays.” He taught English at a decent high school about 30 minutes away. “Now for here, well I will get back to you.” They both laughed. Matt had been at Broad River for about 10 years or so. He was content to teach a course or two in the evenings. Although qualified for a full-time position there, he stayed at the secondary level for some reason.
“He took another sip of his iced tea and opened up his sandwich. “You’re here a little later than usual. It was a comment and a question to Catrin.
“Wish me luck, Matt. At 5 I have a meeting about being a lecturer. Dana and Julia will both be there. “
Matt combed his graying brown hair with a free hand. “Both of them? Well well You must rate”
“I need this lectureship, especially if it means a pay raise,” Catrin added.
Matt took a bite from his BMT sandwich. After he swallowed, he asked, “You’ve been here for a while. And full-time experience?”
Catrin hesitated a moment before replying. “Twelve years here, all adjunct. I was a TA at the University. My BA is actually in English Education; I did student teaching and that convinced me to go to graduate school.”
“Good luck with the meeting.” Matt opened his briefcase and took some folders out. “Feel
free to stop by and let me know how it went. I leave for class about 10 to 6.”
Catrin nodded. She sent a quick text to Virginia about what to reheat for dinner. Then it was time to go upstairs to Dana’s office in 214.
‘Scaffolds had 13 steps, ‘Catrin mused. “I wonder how many these have.’ It was actually 12. From the top a right turn to the English Department. The door to 213 was closed, but Catrin could see that the lights were on and heard two voices engaged in lovely banter. She knocked and Dana ask her to step in. The walls of 213 were covered with prints of Impressionist paintings and framed photographs of London, with the odd poster of a famous writer every so often. Dana and Julia were having a cup of coffee and sharing a cheeseboard. Both wore gold necklaces and fashionable pinstriped suits. Dana had a red blouse, but given Julia’s red hair, a light blue blouse was in order.
“Please sit down,” Dana said cheerfully. Julia purred her greetings while her trained eye noted Catrin’s functional but unfashionable clothing.
“So good to see you,” Julia said.
“It’s my pleasure,” Catrin told them with a slight quiver in her voice.
Dana took a napkin and patted her lips. “Excuse us, Catrin. We’re meeting out husbands for the film festival at the Odeon tonight, and wanted to have a little something.”
Even though there was still some cheese and small slices of bread, as well as some coffee in the pot, Catrin was not offered anything. Reaching back to pour herself some more coffee, Julia commented, “We’re really looking forward to the movie. It’s a Fellini.”
Although she was in need of some caffeine, Catrin knew better than to ask. “So that’s nice, she thought ‘ but cut to the chase.
“The Department is able to have its first lectureship next Fall,” Dana began. “Since we needed to decide quickly, we hurried the process a little.”
“Trying to cut down on the number of meetings,” Julia said, placing some Gouda on a
slight of wheat bread.
“You’ve been with us so long, and we know you so well,” Dana added, “and so you have been the obvious choice.”
“We’re glad you applied,” Julia told Catrin. “You were the most experienced candidate by far.”
It sounded almost too good to be true. Catrin feared that this would be a meeting-before-the-meeting-meeting. But she was being offered the position! ‘Enough flattery,’ she thought,
“What about the money?’
“What would the course load be?”
“Pretty much what you have been doing already. Seven courses a semester, a course in the summer sessions if there is enough enrolment.’ answered Dana.
“At what salary?” There was a brief pause. Dana and Julia exchanged glances.
“It would be at the current rate” Julia replied.
“But you would have the first choice of classes,” Julia added. “You could pick the times that work best for you.”
Catrin hoped she did not look as disappointed as she felt.
“The Lecturer would have an honored place in the Department,” Dana explained. “Most likely would even sit on various committees as well. For instance, the President’s Committee on Adjuncts.”
“You would have more of a presence, “Julia offered. “And more stability. You and your daughter would appreciate that.”
‘No additional money, and sitting on some of those rubber-stamp committees,’ Catrin told
herself. “It sounds interesting,” she began.
Dana waved her hand a few times, “No need to decide now. Take a few days.”
“Thanks for coming,” Julia smiled.
As Catrin left 213, she could hear Julia asking if there was any more coffee. Catrin felt a little light-headed; that was her reaction to stressful situations. Instead of feeling angry, she felt unsure. As she walked back to 134 all she could think of was everything she put up with for years; the monotony of department meetings, listening to the same few people drone on and on like a Wagnerian opera, the bewildering array of classes jumbled together. The early years were tough without healthcare. Fortunately, Obamacare offered coverage. But to sit there while Dana and Julia sipped some expensive coffee and nibbled cheese while they offered her not a cent more than what she was making- that was too much.
Matt had finished work for his lass and was checking his e-mail when Catrin slumped into the room and wearily sat at the table usually used for eating or hand-grading work. He glanced at her and immediately knew something was wrong, very wrong.
“Do you want to talk about it?” There was compassion in his voice.
Catrin sniffed. “All these years of watching them bring in people from the outside, of occasionally picking one of us adjuncts for a full-time position…”
“It did not go as well as you hoped?” Matt offered.
“Oh, I can be a Lecturer sure enough.” Catrin answered. “Not a cent more in salary. But I get first pick on courses and get to waste more time on committees.”
Quickly Matt did some calculations in his head. If Catrin taught 14 courses in the academic year, she would make $28,000 a year. “Don’t you have a teaching credential?”
“Yeah, I did years ago, but I let it lapse. I went to graduate school, became a wife, then a mother.” her voice trailed off.
“For $30 you can renew it. My district needs teachers. Starting salary with your doctorate is $50,000.” Catrin’s eyes widened in stunned disbelief.
“State Health Plan, step increases each year,” he added. “Yeah, there’s bullshit, but there is everywhere. After five years, you are vested for retirement.”
“Would I have a chance at a job?” she asked tentatively.
“Absolutely. Matt told her. “I have to get to class, but send me an e-mail from your personal account. The contracts went out last week and soon the principals will know who is leaving.” He packed up his briefcase, tossed his empty Subway bag into the trashcan, and headed towards the door. “The timing is perfect! See you Wednesday!”
After Matt left Catrin’s mood brightened somewhat. She would check the Department of Education website to renew her credential, then go home for a leftover dinner with Virginia. Then she would check Matt’s school district site. Tomorrow she would gratefully accept the offer to be a Lecturer, but as soon as she was offered a high school position at nearly twice the pay…..ta ta, Broad River Community College.
She hoped that Dana and Julia would enjoy the movie.
Connect with Arthur Turfa on Facebook
Living in the Midlands of South Carolina, Arthur Turfa ventures far and wide with his poetry and literary fiction. Published in many print and electronic journals, he has six published poetry books (most recent Saluda Reflections from Finishing Line Press) and a literary fiction novel, The Botleys of Beaumont County on Blurb. He was in the Top Ten for the Pangolin Review contest in 2019. Drawing some of his ideas from professional and personal experiences, he focuses on the concept of place and how it influences lives. He is a poetry reader for the South Carolina Writers Association’s Petigru Review and a fiction reader for the Northern Appalachia Review.
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