Today, I joined the adjunct professors’ union. I almost didn’t because the union leader thought I was one of my students.
“Is there a Professor Orsini here?” she asked haltingly as she looked around my classroom. It’s true, I look as young or younger than my 21-year-old students. Usually I wear my stiffest business clothes and too much makeup in order to look older. Today I was wearing jeans.
Still not as young or adorable as this professor.
The union leader gave me a handout about the meager salary I’m making. I already know it’s low pay. I don’t work here for the money. I work here because I’ve always aspired to become a teacher (though in my daydreams, I don’t start until after my fulfilling and successful first career.)
My mom was an adjunct professor too, while she was working on her PhD. She didn’t make as little as I do, but she was working in the sciences, not the arts. When she saw how much I was going to make, she said to go for it anyway. “The better the school, the less they pay you,” she said. “They know that you’ll find being affiliated with their reputation equally valuable.”
Since I work at a private university, you can’t FOIA request my salary, and I’m not sure I should give it out. It is, however, comparable to what a Starbucks barista makes, minus the benefits.
I have a full time job and don’t need to make more money from teaching, but I still signed up for the union. I signed up because this is a job that deserves a living wage. Simply put, teaching is really, really hard.
In fact, that’s why I’ve been putting off writing about teaching my class. I’ve been teaching twice a week for seven weeks now, and I still feel like I’m about to go perform stand up comedy for a group of librarians.
Before I started, I thought I’d be able to relate to my students more. I’m only three or four years older than them. I know who Drake is (much to the surprise of my 18-year-old sister.) Plus, I’d be a professional journalist teaching a group of journalism majors. Surely they’d look up to me? Not exactly. They have aspirations to become Capitol Hill reporters and foreign correspondents, so I can only imagine what they think about my article on, say, @horse_ebooks.
When I told my former professor about this, he said, “That never goes away.” So I’ve stopped waiting for everything to suddenly click into place. I worry less about my students thinking I’m funny, cool or inspiring, and far more time making sure they learn the material. I’m not the “fun” professor, but I have brought this group of 17 students from knowing nothing about website building to mastering CSS design.
Comm 305 (the course I teach) is split between two professors. I teach Web skills to half the class in one room while she teaches video in the next. Next Friday marks the semester halfway point, so we swap groups. I’m so, so grateful for the chance to try again. I’ve stumbled through my syllabus once. Now I can pick myself up with an ounce more confidence than before and start all over again.
P.S. Miss my regular three-times-a-week updates? That’s always my goal, but lately I’ve been busy with my jobs. Until then, you should definitely check out my Tumblr, which I update every day. I’ve even put a handy link in the sidebar.
Lauren, I wish you luck in your teaching job!
@Justin, thank you! Love your site redesign!
Isn’t it amazing how the expectations and freakouts we put ourselves through just dissolve when someone else (usually that we look up to and/or has lots of experience) tells us we’re doing fine? Part of the reason I know I wouldn’t have made it as a traditional classroom teacher, as I’d wanted to be most of my life, is a deathly fear of doing exactly what you’re doing every week. You’ve got huge brass balls, my dear. And every new class will give you a chance to shine ’em up. :)
@Ellie, thanks for these words of encouragement. Teaching has definitely taught me that if each lesson doesn’t live up to my plans and expectations, that doesn’t mean it’s not still educational. Both for me and my students!
Hi, one of your students here! I think you’re being too hard on yourself! Digital Skills has been my favorite class this semester! I literally knew nothing about html or CSS going into the class and now I made a website! It’s awesome!!
And, for the record, I have zero desire to work in politics. Nerd culture is my favorite thing ever.
@Emily, hi there! While I was writing up this post, I was wondering if anyone from class would see it. I’m glad you’re learning so much. Let me know if you need any help setting up Bluehost (or just call them — there’s no wait on the phone with them ever!)
Freelance web design kept me employed in between journalism jobs. It’s one of the most valuable job skills you can learn since it’s cheap to do, can be done from anywhere, and everyone needs a website these days. I can’t wait to see your site!