Staying part-time

Higher education is a bad field to get into these days.  Most colleges and universities are reducing costs by hiring adjunct or part-time instructors.  Adjuncts (meaning contracted workers with no benefits or job stability) teach an average of 75% of college courses at community colleges across the country.  There are full-time teaching jobs, but they are few and far between.

I’ve been teaching as an adjunct ever since I returned from Thailand.   Here in Seattle, that means I’m “part-time”.  This is a misnomer since I don’t actually work part-time.  A full-time schedule is 4 teaching hours per day and I currently teach 5 per day.  I am split between two departments:  the Basic studies department (for immigrants and refugees), and the International department (for international students).  This is a nice arrangement for me because I love working with both groups of students.  Also, here in Washington, “part-time” instructors get health and retirement benefits and decent pay, so it doesn’t hurt me much to not have a full-time position.  In Arizona, that was another story.  I had no benefits and was paid much, much less than my “full-time” counterparts for exactly the same work.

But back to Washington. The only real problem with being a part-timer is low job-stability.  If enrollment goes down, my classes are the first to get cut.  If my classes are full, but a full-time instructor’s class is empty, my class will be given to the full-timer.  There’s also a lot of stress before every quarter as the many part-time teachers scramble to get classes.  In the past, I’ve taken on too much work because I was never sure if my classes would pan out.  In Arizona, I taught a full-time schedule at ASU, but also a part-time schedule at a community college because I worried that ASU would drop me in the middle of the semester, leaving me with no job.

As I wrote earlier, full-time jobs occasionally pop up, and two of them recently opened up in the International Dept. at my community college.  The department hadn’t hired any full-time instructors for 10 years.  I submitted my application and was selected for an interview.  This was a big deal because the department received 60 applications and only interviewed 9 people.  The interview was 2 1/2 hours, followed by a 15-minute teaching demonstration.  Talk about awkward!  I had to pretend that my boss and coworkers (the interview panel) were beginning ESL students.  Anyway, that interview went really well, and I was selected for the final round of interviews.  This was an interview with the college president, the vice-president of something or other, and the dean of the International Dept. 

I didn’t end up getting the job, which is fine with me.  It was going to be hard for me to give up teaching immigrants.  Also, getting so far in the job interviews was really an honor.  That sounds stupid, I know, but in this field it really is a big deal just to be interviewed.  My boss said that the department decided to go with people who had more experience.  So hey, when they open another position 10 years from now, I should be a good applicant!

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