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I teach six college courses a year and make less than 20k. IamAn Adjunct. AMA!

Jun 21st 2014 by 20kadjunct • 27 Questions • 1871 Points

In response to this popular post, I am doing this AMA about college adjunct labor. As I say in my title, I taught six course sections over this past school year--five different courses in all--and made less than $20,000.

Proof has been sent to the mods.

Edit: OK, this has been fun and garnered much more attention than I could have ever imagined, but I've got to get to bed. So it's goodbye for now. Thanks for the discussion!

Q:

How attractive are cash bribes given your financial situation?

A:

Hahaha! Well, I've never been offered one, and I've felt very uneasy about even accepting thank you gifts from students--like a $10 coffee shop gift card--after the semester is over. So I'd say that based on my system of values, I will never accept one.


Q:

You know that is so unfortunate. I have had some AMAZING professors and am very active in extracurricular activities. One of my professors dedicates so much time to seeing his students succeed that it blows my mind. Not only does he give time for group study sessions for finals and midterms but he is also very active in assisting our club in outreach activities. This is a college chemistry professor and club so our demo's are pretty intense for safety reasons.

The course I am taking with him is two semesters long so at this point I feel it would be inappropriate to show appreciation. When the course is over it would be an honor to treat him to dinner, I hope he and the other professors accept the clubs invitation.

Although I cannot affect your monetary situation directly, please accept my thanks for doing what you do. Your profession is the most important aspect of our society.

A:

This past semester on the last day before the final I got three thank you cards, one with a long and heartfelt message that was very touching, as well as a cupcake. My day was made.


Q:

As a student is there anything I can do to express my appreciation that ever won't be creepy? When I graduate there are a lot of professors I'd like to thank, but I don't want it to be weird.

A:

There are plenty of ways. Say thanks in person, or write a card or an email. Writing a favorable evaluation or a good RateMyProfessor review is one thing, but saying it directly to us is much more meaningful. A couple have asked if it was OK to give me a hug before they left, and I was totally OK with that.


Q:

I am also an Adjunct at a major university. It's not at all my primary job, I do it for the pleasure of teaching. What is your thoughts on the fact that your "competition" may often be folks like me?

I wrote a good bit about my own experience as an adjunct professor, if you're interested.

A:

I've never thought of any other adjunct as competition and I think it's great that there are people who want to adjunct for the pleasure of teaching. There should be better compensation and greater job security for all adjuncts, not just the ones who make it their primary job.


Q:

What subject do you teach? Do you work in research outside the university, do any consulting, etc?

A:

I teach a language and its literature, really two different types of courses. I am also a full-time PhD student (unfunded) and have two other jobs on the side to get by.


Q:

Unfunded PhD? Are you in the US? Why did you accept an unfunded offer of admission? Are adjuncts unionized on your campus? Thanks for doing this AMA/bringing light to an important issue in higher ed.

A:

Admittedly, it was not a smart idea and it's something that my university pretty much doesn't do anymore. At the time, I was just tickled to be accepted and thought that adjunct labor within the university was really a great job opportunity.


Q:

Yeah, from what I've read when applying for graduate schools, an offer for an unfunded position is like a polite rejection. They're saying that you're good enough to get in, but there's not enough money for you. You get to say that you got accepted to School X, but they don't actually expect you to attend, and if you do, free money!

A:

Actually, my tuition has always been covered, and my school, until recently accepted many students as unfunded, many in the same cohort as funded students. We are just as successful as the other members of our cohorts, so it does make you think twice about who the admissions committees value. It also begs the question about opportunities for funding at other stages in a graduate career.


Q:

I don't know how things work in the humanities, but is it up to you to find an advisor with grant money to fund you or does the department itself fund its student?

I wouldn't consider a tuition voucher as totally unfunded. You know when they really don't want you around when they start charging you tuition.

A:

In the humanities the professors are less likely than in the sciences to have money to fund their students. My advisor does not have a research assistant, for example, and it's not like he's in charge of a lab in need of workers.


Q:

Isn't being an adjunct professor without a PhD a bit unusual? I taught courses while I was a PhD student, for which I got squat, at the same time I was a research assistant. But at least it was helping to build experience and my resume.

A:

I am not an adjunct professor. I am an adjunct lecturer. There's a difference in pay and, for the most part, qualifications. But the courses are truly mine. I am not a teaching or research assistant.


Q:

So tell us why you are willing to work so hard for so little (per hour). Is there a union on your campus that you're a member of and if so, what are they doing to try to remedy this? Also, for those who may have little idea, estimate the dollars per hour you are earning, counting not only class time, but prep, office hours, grading, etc.

A:

Great. So I work hard because 1) I love teaching, and 2) I hope that adjuncting now while I am a grad student and doing my job well is a step towards becoming a tenure-track professor one day.

I am a member of the union for my university. Currently they are negotiating a contract that seems to value the contributions of the full-time workforce more than the adjuncts, although we have been pushing back against that and stating our case for a significant movement on their part in support of us.

My official hourly rate is a little bit more than $60, which sounds great, I'll admit, but I only get paid for the hours I am in the classroom as well as one office hour a week. I'm not sure exactly, but I think for each three-credit course I typically put in between 12-15 hours a week in teaching, planning/research for class, answering student emails, writing exams, grading, writing letters of recommendation, tutoring students, making copies, attending meetings, etc. So that averages out to $12-$15 dollars an hour depending on the week.


Q:

12-15 an hour with tuition vouchers is really great in todays job market, especially if you're doing something you love. being able to subsist while enjoying your work and life is a very respectable and fulfilling way to live. your passion is evident and the students and university are lucky to have you.

A:

your passion is evident and the students and university are lucky to have you.

Awww. Thanks!


Q:

You should not do an unfunded PhD--no one should. Sorry, but you're paying to do a job.

A:

Actually, I suppose that unfunded is the wrong word, as other commenters pointed out. My tuition is covered by the university.


Q:

How did you end up with this position rather than a tenure-track one?

A:

I have not yet completed my PhD, so I am not eligible for a tenure-track professorship. I suppose it's the dream that one day I will hopefully achieve.


Q:

Do you grade on a curve? And will there be extra credit? Also I'm not going to be here for the exam next Friday; can I get an extension on that?

A:

Of course! I will drop your lowest test and quiz grades as well, but not like it'll matter because they'll all be open book. You can turn in homework at any time throughout the semester for full credit. And I'll gladly administer all students' exams for them whenever they feel prepared to take it... :)

Edit: Is there a way to format to indicate sarcasm?


Q:

What's your living situation like?

A:

I live in a large and very expensive metropolitan area so it's definitely a struggle. I'm lucky enough to have a partner with a job and together we can pay our rent on a one-bedroom apartment, pay our bills, and buy our food and some wine. I couldn't do it without him, though, and all the support he has offered me over the years.


Q:

verified

A:

Thanks!


Q:

I am completing my masters in criminal justice and have recently applied to a variety of adjunct faculty positions. I have taught a few classes here and there for some of my professors but nothing full time. I am a bit intimidated about teaching a full semester course and was wondering if you could give any tips or suggestions as to what I could do to be more confident in my teaching abilities as well as how to keep the class from being bored? I want the class to feel engaged and want to avoid simply giving a boring lecture that would likely make the class uninterested. Thanks!

A:

Well, for starters, it sounds like you've got the right attitude.

Students will be more enthusiastic and less bored if you are enthusiastic and love what you do and the subject you teach. Be passionate! And don't feel ashamed about being a nerd for your subject!

I sing, I dance, I make awkward pictures on the chalkboard, I (try to) tell jokes and keep a light mood. Plus, when I'm teaching a language course, I can add fun group activities and games into the class. It's all worked out pretty well so far.


Q:

What is your degree in?

What do you want to do with the degree when you finish?

What can you do with a doctorate in your field that isn't academia?

A:

I have a BA in Education and my subject (a language) and an MA in the subject.

My goal is to be teaching as a professor when I'm done. I like teaching the language courses and I LOVE teaching the literature.

Teaching is the most obvious career path in my field, but working at archives or a cultural institution might be possibilities.


Q:

Thanks!

So... let me ask a couple dick-ish questions, but why are you getting your PhD in that subject? I'm almost certain that you'd make more money and work less if you stopped now and taught at the high school level instead of going to the collegiate level. PLUS, far less departmental politics (take it from a guy who has taught at both the high school and university levels, albeit in economics).

Or why not go to wherever they speak that language and teach english?

What's the job market for people in your field from your school? How many people graduate each year with a PhD from your program? How many get jobs and how much do they get paid?

I know you said you're not an economist, but what I'm asking you to do is figure out the return on investment. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching college kids much, MUCH more than high school kids. But I'm not going to make myself suffer to do so.

Some quick googling revealed a few reports in what I'm guessing is your field (here's one: http://www.mla.org/pdf/survey_phdplacement_0607.pdf). Basically, roughly 60% of people graduating with a a degree in a language other than english go on to teach at the university level. The other 40%... don't. Average salary of those 60% is roughly $57k/year. Now, this goes up if you reach the rank of full professor to about $80k/year. But you said that you wanted to be a teacher, not a researcher, so getting up to that 80k average mark is unlikely. And realistically, you're almost certainly going to be paid below the market average as an assistant professor.

A:

Well it's not about the amount of money I'd make. It's about my passion, which is to teach literature in my language. That option is rarely available at high schools, and if it is, there's probably just one class of it a year.

I don't want to teach English. I've lived abroad and taught it, but it's not as fulfilling to me as a really amazing discussion on a great novel with students who have some startling and illuminating insights on the work.


Q:

whats one of your funny teaching stories?

A:

Oh, goodness. Well, my favorites are always the students who think that they can get away with using Google Translate or something similar to write essays on their homework and they will say something like "I wore a tie" but the word they use for tie will be the word that actually means railroad tie, or a tie in sports, or family bonds, all things that I've seen before. Moral of the story: Use a good dictionary and don't accept the first word that pops up in Google Translate. WE. ALWAYS. KNOW!

Edit: I actually thought of a better one. A day or two before an exam, a student once asked if I could push the test back to the following week for all students because this one particular person was pretty busy with other things.


Q:

Have you read In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, by Professor X? If so, what did you think of it?

A:

No. Should I be adding this to my reading list?


Q:

My experience is from undergrad and grad school in science. TA assists the professor. The TA does some teaching (with small groups of students in tutorials and/or in labs) and grading while the professor is supposed to plan the course and do the main lectures. I assume in the OP's case they are the one planning and running the course in which case I think they should be entitled to more money than a TA.

A:

That's a great question. TAs are generally not the overall supervisors of their own classes. They follow a syllabus set by the supervising professor, grade work or tests assigned by the professor, etc. Adjuncts, on the other hand, are wholly responsible for the course, its planning, and carrying out the plans.


Q:

Do you plan on switching jobs ever? Was this your dream job as a child, and is it your dream job now?

A:

My dream job as a child was musical theater. Teaching a language, really, is part acting.

Now, being a professor is my dream job and something I will pursue once I defend my dissertation.


Q:

Have you ever thought of going to the dark side (administration) and teaching on the side? I confess... it's what I did. I teach much less than I would like, work a solid 12 months, 8 hour + days and teach on the side. Of course with a PhD you're going to be in a better boat. Good luck!

A:

Thanks! I don't think administration is my thing, even with a side dish of teaching. The solution to the adjunct labor crisis is to pay adjunct faculty better, not to lose us to (economically) greener pastures.


Q:

Do you get other benefits? Like i know a lot of the graduate students at my college who do adjunct get cheaper tuition and such.

A:

My tuition is covered for the moment and I also get health insurance.


Q:

Do you really feel you deserve to make significantly more? If so, what's your reasoning?

A:

I really do. I have an MA in my subject (my BA was in the subject as well as in education) and I have completed all the coursework towards my PhD, but have not yet finished my dissertation. My reviews from students as well as official department observations for my teaching have all been excellent. I make less than $3k per course. I'd like to think that my time, experience, and expertise warrants more fair compensation.


Q:

Look into online teaching, which pays as well or better and requires much less prep time. I'm not saying abandon this, just consider picking that up on the side.

A:

Thanks, but I'm definitely more interested in face-to-face interactions with my students. They are much more impactful and helpful, especially in and language class.