Monthly Archives: July 2013

If You Have to Ask

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” so the old adage goes.

Here are the top 4 questions students should never ask their teachers (well, at least, not me anyway.  Maybe they can ask these questions of nicer teachers, you know, the kind with wavy, Disney-princess hair and bubbly handwriting and little baskets of potpourri from Crate and Barrel in their bathrooms.)

  1. When is it due?

I have amazing syllabi.  They are freakishly thorough, clearly laid-out and pretty much on par with War and Peace or The Grapes of Wrath.  Seriously.  Civilizations of the future will discover my syllabi and weep that they couldn’t live in the era of my genius.

Really, though, my syllabi are pretty boss and I go over them thoroughly on the first day of class, which is why it really wets my socks (you know the feeling – that FEELING) when students ask this.

Other related questions:  “Do we have anything due today?”  “What did we have to read for class today?”

Dudes, seriously.

If you have ever asked any of these questions, it’s ok, we all make horrible, life-altering mistakes.  But. Dudes. Seriously.

Consider exiling yourself to Ball’s Pyramid

Hospitable.

Hospitable.

population YOU + a bunch of narsty, baguette-sized stick insects called tree lobsters.

3. Is it ok if. . .?

Here are some examples:

Is it ok if I go print this paper off real fast (usually asked 1 to 5 minutes before class starts)?

How am I supposed to respond to that?  I don’t need to give them permission to go use a printer, do I?  I think what they are really asking is, “Are you going to mark me LATE when I show up LATE for class with my LATE paper because I didn’t plan ahead like my more responsible, not LATE classmates?”

And I think what they want me to say in response is something like, “Sure, buddy, it’s ok.  We’re pals, after all.  I would never penalize you for anything. Ever.  Did King Midas grope you in the stairwell?  Because you are golden, my friend!  You can do whatever you want.  As a matter of fact, don’t even bother turning in the paper.  You get an A++++

Here’s another manifestation of this question:

Is it ok if I didn’t cite my sources OR staple my essay together OR  use any research in this research paper OR do some other component of the assignment clearly listed as a REQUIREMENT?

I’d like to respond, “Sure, it’s OK.  But as payment for this malfeasance, I will require the liver of your firstborn child, fried with some onions and served au jus.

Sssthfsssthfsssthf

Ssssthhfsssthffssssth!

Also, I’m still going to deduct points.”

2. Did I miss anything?  – OR – Did we do anything important when I was absent?

I get these two similar question ALL. THE. TIME. from students returning after absences.  Here’s how I want to respond:

“No, of course not.  In fact, when we realized you weren’t here, the whole class had an hour-long moment of silence in your honor.  We were really too devastated by the absence of your presence to do anything productive.  If you didn’t show up today, we were probably going to hold a candlelight vigil.”

Sometimes I wonder if my students are like peek-a-boo-playing babies who don’t understand object permanence yet – they think that unless they can see the class, it simply fails to continue existing.

Here’s another response I’d like to throw out:

“Nope, not really.  We just had a Candyland marathon and a pizza party with the Olsen Twins.  So I guess you missed the most awesome day ever.  Hope you had fun smoking meth with your uncle’s middle-aged girlfriend and forcing heartworm pills down her pug’s asthmatic throat.”

Or maybe this…

“Nah, we just did some writing bull shit.  None of this stuff really matters anyway.  We’re all going to die, someday, man.  Nothing in the world matters.  Not even this sentence.  Not even this breath.”

Seriously, grow some balls of initiative, read the syllabus and borrow somebody’s notes.  Yes, you missed something.  No, I’m not going to rehash an entire class session’s worth of material in five minutes.  Are you some kind of spoiled celebrity baby named after fruits or airlines or hemorrhoid cream?  Are you under the impression that I will give you everything you want on a “di-a-mond encrusted” (thanks, Kanye West) platter just because you are YOU? (P.S. Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame has a kid named Moxie Crimefighter.  I can’t decide if I want to give him windmill high-fives of bad-assery or report him for child abuse).

Hey Stillwells of the student world, don’t make me throw my baseball glove at you.  Because I’ll do it.

  1. Why did you give me [insert grade here]?

Taking the number one spot, we have the all-time, grand-mal-seizure-rage-stroke-inducing question.  “Why did you give me a C?  Why did you give me a B?  I’m an A student, dag nabbit!  I only get A’s!”

I think questions like this stem from the fact that college students now are from a generation raised on participation trophies (Congratulations!  You stood around on the soccer field like the little sack of vacant flesh that you are!  You win!) and teacher-blaming:

school then and now

Nothing is ever their fault.  As long as they try their hardest, they are winners and deserve all of the same rewards and accolades as the people who managed to get it right.

If this kid won that trophy for 'Best Mullet Tie-Dye Combo in History' then this trophy was actually well-deserved.

If this kid won that trophy for ‘Best Mullet Tie-Dye Combo in History (nobody else even try)’ then this trophy was actually well-deserved.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to explain to students where they succeed and where they fall short, which is why I provide extensive written feedback on every paper (and then a nutshell summary for the lazy).  Of course, nobody ever bothers to read that.  They just ask me why I “gave” them “that grade.”

I want to respond…

“You’re right.  You didn’t earn that C.  I gave it to you.  I gave it to you because I’m an evil, warty crone and you are the messiah.  I get my jollies from crushing your soul like a ripe pimple.  I gave you a C because I super enjoy when students ask me to repeat all the stuff I already painstakingly explained in writing.  These are the moments I cherish.”

You earned a C.  Be accountable.  Read the feedback.  Implement it.  Try to do better next time.  Move on with your life.  I’m sure there’s a game of Candy Crush somewhere with your name on it.  Don’t you have some meth to smoke?  Some skin tags to remove?

I would like to close this post by saying, in the words of Angelica Pickles,

If you have to ask, then you'll never know!

If you have to ask, then you’ll never know!

Teach Like the Floor is Lava

My boss puts on this bad-ass, punk rock, “I will fail you for blinking the wrong way (yes, there is a right way to blink, bitches), and then I will eat your beating heart in front of you” veneer. The first time I met the guy (and every time I’ve seen him since then) he was dressed all in black – black jeans, black t-shirt, black blazer, black boots and black-rimmed glasses.  Even his hair was black.  I would venture to say he was sporting some tightie-blackies.  If blackface were socially acceptable, he probably would have even painted his face black.

Allow me to digress for a moment to tell you about the time I did this – when I was six – and I wanted to dress up like my idol, Steve Urkel, for Halloween (please don’t hate me).  Nobody bothered to tell me that there was an entire history behind a white person painting his/her face black that made it incredibly offensive.  I just loved the Urk-man so much, and I was six, so my head was filled with playground gravel.  Also,  all of my textbooks managed to skip around the issue of race, even though they had inexplicable covers like this:

Thank you, 30 Rock.

Thank you, 30 Rock.

or this real, live school textbook

A likely group of friends.

A likely group of friends.

and contained word problems about Chandrakanta, Alejandro, Jazzmyn and Brad buying 100 fish bowls and 30 pairs of latex gloves (most likely for some kind of diversity day ritual sacrifice).  Anyway, I had the pull-string Urkel doll, Urkel-O’s

Do you remember these?  Peasant.  Get behind me.  You were never a true Urk-fan.

Do you remember these? No? Peasant. 

and I could do the Urkel dance like a pro.  To a six-year-old, he was a comedic genius, and I wanted to be just like him, right down to his skin.  I’ve never seen a single picture of my Halloween costume from that year.  Apparently my parents did not want to preserve that memory.

Anyway, despite the dementor façade my boss manifests and his improbable self-labeling as an anarchist,  he’s actually a pretty nice guy and incredibly intelligent.

Yet, I take issue with a piece of advice he gave me shortly after I started teaching.  You’ve probably heard similar such nonsense advice before:  “Teach like you don’t need this job.”

I knew he probably meant “take risks – be inventive – don’t teach for the course evaluations” but what he said was “teach like you don’t need this job.”

But let’s be real humans here, while most of us tolerate our jobs and some of us even find mild enjoyment in them, they are still j-o-b’s – something we have to do, like cleaning (have I mentioned my desk looks like an episode of Hoarders right now) or paying taxes (completed the night before they are due, every single year).  We don’t want to eat dinners of pre-chewed gum scraped from city benches, so we work and eat Ramen.

As much as I find teaching fulfilling at times and amusing at others, and as much as I wholeheartedly believe that teaching is valuable, let’s imagine this scenario.  A nice man, probably dressed like a Mormon missionary, a rich one,  without the backpack and bike helmet, approaches me on the street and says, “You don’t have to do this anymore.  We will pay your bills for the rest of your life.  You want to buy that Barbie Power Wheels jeep your parents couldn’t afford when you were a kid and drive it down the freeway while singing R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”?

This guy gets it.

This guy gets it.

Done. ” After checking to make sure this was not a cult leader or organ harvester, I would take the nice man up on his offer.  Then I would do exactly what my boss advised – I would teach like I didn’t need my job.  I’m not going to lie – the results might not be pretty.  I mean, when I heard the expression “Dance like nobody’s watching,” I did.  I still do, all the time, when I’m home alone, and it looks like this:

With a little of this:

It’s horrifying.

 

So I imagine if I decided to teach like I really didn’t need the job, it might play out a little like this:

Me: (Sitting in a chair, feet propped up on a desk) What’s up asshats?  Here’s the assignment.  I typed everything out in this 100-page packet.  I will not be taking questions.  Please don’t talk to me or enter my personal space.  Now go away and come back in three weeks with your finished essays.

Students:  Why you ain’t grade my last essay?  This just say ‘Clown College’ real big across the paper.

Me:  That is solid advice.  Look, you clearly wrote that 15 minutes before class.  Please donate it to a hamster cage and then enroll in clown school.  Because you are a clown.

Student:  Dayum! That’s cold.

 

I’m kidding, before any of you damage your fancy touch tablets by trying to hurl tomatoes through them.

P.S. According to Urban Dictionary, a reliable source, clown college can also be slang for prison.  So, bonus.

I - I'd pick prison. . .

Oh.  I – I’d pick prison. . .

 

Honestly, even if I didn’t need my job, I would probably still want to teach on some level (with much fewer classes and plenty of vacations to Peru and France and even Plano, TX interspersed in between them).  I really do like helping people (sometimes), and I want to contribute usefully to the world in some way (at least, that’s what I’m supposed to want).  I mean, without teaching, my only legacy so far is this blog and my cat who is currently taking a break from sleeping to stare at a wall.  Later she will probably spend an hour licking her own genitals and then chasing her own tail under the kitchen table.

So – I will always teach, even if I don’t need the job.

But let’s be honest – I do need this job, and so I have to balance on a tightrope holding “What will be beneficial to my students – even future clowns” and “What will my boss look favorably upon without getting hemorrhoids of disapproval” in each hand with “What will keep my students from staging a mutiny with pig heads on sticks” sitting on top of my head.  It’s not easy.  And the floor is lava.

So to my boss and his advice, I say ‘boo.’  He can teach like he doesn’t need his job.  I will continue to do the professional equivalent of this:

This is the coolest man who has ever lived.  None of us will ever be this cool.  Seriously.  No, stop arguing.  It's futile.  He wins.

This is the coolest man who has ever lived. None of us will ever be this cool. Seriously. No, stop arguing. It’s futile. He wins.

T(eacher) Rex

I asked my husband what he thought about my last post.  He said I talked about money too much.  Wa-wa.

So here’s something non-money related.  Also, if you go to the Stories link at the top of the page and click on Bogeyman, I posted some fiction.

Teaching makes me nervous.  Let me rephrase that – everything makes me nervous .  Let me rephrase that again – I have a sometimes soul-sucking level of anxiety which obviously makes me perfectly suited for a career in teaching where twenty pairs of eyes are pinned on me at all times for hours every day.

Let me put it this way – on a scale from Emily Dickinson to Howard Hughes, I am Sigourney Weaver’s character from the 1995 movie Copycat.  Remember that movie?  Probably not, but I always have, mostly because despite the whole ‘almost getting murdered in a bathroom stall’ part, I could totally relate to her (incidentally, since I first saw this movie I have had a completely healthy fear of public bathrooms).  Here’s a clip, if you’re still curious.  This is pretty much what I look like every time I try to leave my house:

I might not be that bad (yet), but I did one time hide between my bookshelves with a bowl of half-mashed potatoes when I heard my landlord outside mowing the grass.  I wanted him to think nobody was home so he wouldn’t knock on the door and try to talk to me.  That’s normal, right?

This makes interacting with people at work a little complicated.  First, it almost certainly means that I will never receive a promotion at work over someone else who is equally qualified because when I run into my superiors, my personality falls out of my butt.  I become loud and awkward.  I laugh too easily – nervously – maniacally –  I probably sound like a psychopath.  Really.  They probably think I have actual skeletons in my closet at home, or assorted animal skulls, or at least a Helga-Pataki-level bubblegum shrine resembling my latest stalking victim.  gum shrine

A typical conversation will go like this:

Me: (Seeing boss approaching down a long hallway) Oh no, oh no, oh no.  Please turn into that classroom.  Please turn – Ah, shit, now I’ll have to talk to him.  I better think of something smart or witty to say.  Wait – how do I make my mouth look like a smile again?  Is it like this?

No no – like this

Remember Kane, from Poltergeist?

Remember Kane, from Poltergeist?

Yea, this is the right look.

Boss:  (Friendly) Hey

Me:  GOOD.

Boss: What?

Me:  I MEAN – HEY – I MEAN – HOW’S – DAaaaay?

Boss:  OK, how’s your day going?

Me:

Boss:  What?

Me:  YOU TOO! OK BYE. (Running suddenly away)

(He’s charmed, I’m sure.)

It also makes interacting with students a little complicated – and sweaty.  Normally, I am incredibly sensitive to the cold to the point that my body starts a mutiny when the temperature falls below 70 degrees, and it begins to drain all the blood out of my appendages.  It’s as if there is a tiny submarine in my central nervous system with a tiny captain who bellows through his tiny megaphone when his sensors pick up the first hint of cold:  “Mayday!  Mayday!  Mayday!  There’s a possibility that it could one day be cold out there.  Call the retreat, redcoats!  Fall back!  Protect the major organs from the onslaught of their impending, icy death.”  I call it ‘The White Fingers.’

It's actually called Raynaud's Syndrome.

It’s actually called Raynaud’s Syndrome.

My favorite gift my husband has ever bought for me was not jewelry or fancy flowers (which tend to sadden me anyway – who wants to watch beautiful bouquet of flowers slowly die on the table – why not just chop off a cat’s head and bring that to me?).  No, my favorite gift was the heated blanket he surprised me with last winter (romance done right).  I named it Cecil the Blanket.  He accused me of loving it more than him.  I changed the subject.

When I teach, on the other hand, I sweat profusely from my armpits.  Profusely.  Like this:

Apparently Axe believes I can solve my problem with their products, but I am loathe to smell like a pubescent boy who hasn’t figured out personal hygiene yet.

When I get home at the end of the day, the first thing I want to do is strip off all my clothes and wash myself while curled up and weeping in the bottom of the shower.  Of course, I have to make it through the day first.

One survival solution I’ve come up with is to imagine that I’m a T-Rex (the T stands for Teacher).

I clamp my upper arms firmly against my sides and flail my tiny forearms around trying to write on the board, like this but with words instead of numbers:

trex

Also, whenever students piss me off, I just bite them in their faces (don’t tell them that if they sit perfectly still I can’t see them).

I’m still sweaty, but at least nobody has to stare at my pit stains.

Remember Pit Stain from Pete and Pete?  That show was legit.

Remember Pit Stain from Pete and Pete? That show was legit.

Maybe one day I’ll just slap some maxi pads under there or preemptively soak my entire shirt in the bathroom sink before class.  Until then, T-Rex arms.

Of course, it doesn’t help that some students are just giant ass spatulas, even when it comes down to something as simple as the pronunciation of their names.  Honestly, I do my best.  I want to say every student’s name correctly because I think it is rude and disrespectful to them not to do so and, believe it or not, I try to be respectful to my students at all times.  Once they tell me how to say the name, I will continue to say it that way until I DIE with their haphazardly spelled monikers trailing from my lips like Citizen Kane’s beloved Rosebud.

But, allow me to put on my Mama’s Family little old lady wig and glasses to say,

What's up with parents today naming their children completely incomprehensible, make-believe names?

What’s up with parents today naming their children completely incomprehensible, make-believe names?

I suppose they think their children are special, so they don’t want to give them average names like Mary or Bobby.  I suppose they also want their children to grow into the type of people who make passive-aggressive Facebook status updates about how they’re not going to let the “drama” get to them because they’re unique butterflies or flowers or munchkin cats, or some other nonsense.

Why hooman?  Why did you maek me like dis?

Why hooman? Why I haz no legs? Why you maek me like dis?

People can name their children whatever they want, but I’m not a mind reader and there’s no way I will be able to pronounce some of these loco names correctly on the first attempt.

On the first day of the first class I ever taught, I had the following conversation:

Me: (Reading the name ‘Sherawhn’ from the roster) Sure-on?

Sherawhn:  Yea…(eye roll)

Me:  I just want to make sure – did I say your name correctly?

Sherawhn:  You the English teacher.  You should know (lips pushed out with so much defiant attitude it looked like she’d gotten them stuck in an escalator – eyes rolled so far back into her head it looked like she was seizing).

Me:  (what I actually said) Nobody, not even English teachers, know how to pronounce every word in the world, especially names with unique spellings.

Me:  (what I wanted to say) Do you know how to pronounce ‘vituperator’? Because it means bitch and that is exactly what you are.  Please find a bus and throw yourself in front of it, posthaste.

I forgave Sherawhn somewhat.  After all, she was clearly fresh out of high school – full of the arrogance of youth.  I hope she has matured into a fine young woman, or that at least she’s been enthusiastically b-slapped in the face a few times since then.

However, a few years later I had another student who was obviously old enough to be my grandmother (read:  someone who should have known better):

Me: (First day of class, First attendance, I see the name Sheeilaann on my roster.  Soo manny unnneeeddeedd letttttersss) She-lan?

Sheeilaan: UH-UH!! nnnNO! UH UH! (Practically shouting – she was kind of like all of these characters rolled into one –

Me: Oh, I’m sorry, did I say it wrong?  How is it pronounced?

Sheeilaan:  (Wagging her finger and bobbing her head around so fast she looked like a helicopter.  I half expected her head to fly off her body and take off out the window) It She-LUN, not She-LAN!!

Me:  Well, I’m sorry I said it incorrectly, but there’s no need to have such a bad attitude about it.  This is the first time I’ve seen your name.  You have my assurance I will say it correctly from now on.

Me: (What I wanted to say) Seriously, everyone who has ever loved you was wrong.

Some other favorite names:

Chris-Xeil (pronounced Chrishell, like Michelle but with Chris at the beginning – naturally)

J’Rae-jaa’ (I don’t even think the poor girl knew how to pronounce this one.  I heard her pronounce it at least two different ways to different people.  Who can blame her?  So much punctuation.  Why?)

Aza’lea (Pronounced Ah-zhu-lay, not azalea, like the flower, which is how I said it, much to her dismay).

Satohn (Pronounced Sa-tawn.  OK, so this was actually a four-year-old little boy at the daycare where I worked, but it is still one of my favorite names of all time.  My question for the parents – why not go all the way and just name your baby Satan?)

Sugar Dick – A colleague of mine had this student – this was her given first and last name.  A Google search reveals some. . . horrifying things, but also the fact that this name combination is more common than I want to believe.  The only possible justification for this is if the baby was born with a birthmark in the shape of a tiny g-string with dollar bills sticking out of it.  The parents would then figure, “Well, it’s obviously her destiny to be a stripper, so we’d better equip her with the best stripper name possible.  That way she can be the best darn stripper in the whole wide world!”  I imagine her childhood was a lot like this little girl’s, whose parents actually dressed her up like Julia Roberts playing a prostitute in Pretty Woman.

This is full of so. much. yikes.  Ba da ba ba ba - I'm not lovin' it.

This is full of so. much. yikes. Ba da ba ba ba – I’m NOT lovin’ it.

The majority of my students are completely understanding, normal, rational humans, but for me and my unending levels of anxiety, teaching is like walking through a field where I know for sure a land-mine has been buried (because there’s usually at least one Cray Charles in the bunch).  I anticipate it, I wait for it, I dwell on it.  I mean, if some of them are willing to expend so much energy becoming angry over a simple mistake in name pronunciation, just imagine what they will do to me when I turn into Teacher-Rex and bite them in their faces.

Cashmere Toilet Paper

When I was in graduate school, I worked at a daycare.  For the blissfully unaware, working at a daycare is basically like attending a GWAR concert every day.  Remember GWAR?  They’re the heavy metal band of grown men who dress up in costumes, growl like the bastard offspring of rabid dogs and Incubi, and pour viscera over a roaring crowd.  All dressed up they kind of look like a Megazord from Power Rangers

megazordmade babies with some orcs

Hey honey!  Give Billy to the orc and get the camera.  This will be hilarious.  Aw, look, he's scarred for life!

(Honey, quick! Give Billy to the orc and get the camera. This will be hilarious. Aw, look, he’s scarred for life!)

and shoved some guitars in their hands.

Charming.  I hope they sent this copies of this picture in Christmas cards to their grandmothers.

(Charming. I hope they sent copies of this picture in Christmas cards to their grandmothers.)

For eight hours every day, my ears would be assaulted by the growling, shrieking battle cries of tiny, oozing cesspools who would attempt to mutilate everything in their paths (including myself and other children) while spewing buckets of bodily fluids on EVERYTHING until they (hopefully) collapsed into sticky little piles of sleep for two hours of napping in the afternoon.  If a room full of roombas became possessed by Gremlins, the result would be similar.  I would come home in the evenings, depleted, quickly change my clothes (which were usually covered in snail trails of snot) and head off to a 2.5 hour night class.

However, working at a daycare did have certain perks, like free weekends to nurse my battle-wounds and prepare for Monday’s onslaught.  I also never had to work earlier than 7 AM or later than 6 PM (except for when thoroughly baked parents would ‘forget’ to pick up their kids, eventually rolling in surrounded by a visible cloud of smoke, blinking their heavy eyes, as they mumbled ‘Aw, my bad’). Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, the pay was well above the minimum wage with medical and dental benefits included.  Granted, these medical benefits were not superb, but if I ever happened to have my hand gnawed off by a deranged toddler, my new hook hand would be on the house.

The resulting, necessary therapy, on the other hand (ha!), would not.

Naturally I assumed that after earning a Master’s Degree and beginning my “career” as a college instructor, my pay scale would increase and my working conditions would improve.  These thoughts, apparently, were delusional on my part.  I try to imagine the rich white people who decide the pay-rate of adjuncts, but the only images I could conjure were Scrooge McDuck, Mr. Monopoly, Lucille Bluth and Mitt Romney (I don’t interact with rich people very often – or ever – apparently).  I think this is the closest approximation:

Just ask your parents for money!

Just ask your parents for money!

In my mind they are old men with diamond cuff-links and bow ties made out of 100-dollar-bills, sitting around a marble table, eating imported chocolate flaked with real gold leaf while speaking in the voice of Nigel Thornberry:

I then imagine them blustering in consternation, “Pay adjuncts fairly?!?  Next, they’ll want us to start hiring colored people and dames, I suppose!  We’ll probably have to stop bathing in pools of champagne and wiping our asses with cashmere sweaters too!” I feel for them.  Really, I do.  I’m all torn up.

I won’t bore you with my actual salary amount (well, really, I won’t depress myself by typing it out).  Here is an informative article, if you are interested: Adjuncts Paid in Packing Peanuts

Yet I once calculated that when I first started working as an adjunct, I was making less than minimum wage when I took into account the amount of money I made compared to the number of hours I actually worked each week.  Unlike my cushy daycare job, adjuncts don’t necessarily have the luxury of clocking out at the end of the day (this is the case with any teaching job, of course, but I’m speaking specifically from my experience as an adjunct).  We take our work home with us.  We grade papers late into the night, to the point of delirium, sometimes working 12 – 15 hour days.  We answer desperate student e-mails at midnight, rehashing information we’ve gone over 2,064 times in class.

Please, somebody, for the love of God buy this for me.  Maybe I'll just tattoo it on my face...

Please, somebody, for the love of God buy this for me. Maybe I’ll just tattoo it on my face…

We try to relax, but the thought of tasks that we should be doing pulses in the back of our minds like the tell-tale heart, reminding us of our crime – the murder of our own sanity.  Our work is almost always with us in one way or another,  unpleasantly present, like an ulcer or a tapeworm.  There is no such thing as over-time pay.   Additionally, adjuncts are not provided with any medical or dental benefits, which basically means that I have been curing the flu and broken bones with healing crystals, incense and pig’s blood for the past three years and having root canals performed by a chisel-wielding felon named Smooove in a bowling-alley basement.

It makes perfect sense that prison inmates are more medically secure than college professors, right?  We are, essentially, the Charlie Buckets of the academic world, staring through the window at the rich kids who get to gobble down unlimited diabetes while a dashing, mustachioed candy-man serenades them!  We are relegated to the task of scooping quarters out of storm drains with the hope that we can one day buy a single candy bar.  We inhabit the same world as those privileged children, but our experiences of it are so much different.

No bitterness here.

No bitterness here.  Only fantastic hair.

Hypothetically, I can increase the amount of money I make by simply teaching more classes, but enough classes are not always available and I don’t always have the mental energy (read: death wish) to grade 6, 500 essays every week.  Oh, how I envy my colleagues with their answer keys and Scantrons!  I see you, fellow cubicle dwellers, whipping through fifty tests in 10 minutes.  Have you no decency?  Can’t you do that in private?  There are English instructors to think of!

When I first started teaching, I tried to solve this problem by teaching a few classes while working part-time at the daycare.  This might have worked out fine but, unfortunately, I was also taking two night classes to finish up my degree and trying to eat and sleep like a human, not a giraffe.  Did you know giraffes only sleep for approximately two hours each day?  the more you know

Eventually I found I was working somewhere close to 80 hours each week which led to a fair amount of rocking, moaning, generally incoherent babbling and rolling into a blanket burrito of self-pity.

Most adjuncts either teach during the day while moonlighting as bar tenders, Wal-Mart greeters or circus clowns at night.  Others teach at a few different schools to increase the chances of receiving enough classes to pay the bills and to increase their carbon footprint speeding across town in their jalopies five times each day.  Still, even while teaching a full load of classes we’d likely make more money as exotic dancers.

Of course, the fly-covered cherry on top of this garbage Sunday is that, as adjuncts, we get the opportunity to watch our superiors do the EXACT SAME WORK that we do and get paid triple or quadruple what we make.  That’s more than a few Benjamins, folks – we are talking about Madisons here!

Yes, James Madison is on the $5,000 bill, and this is as close as I will ever get to it.

James Madison – look at that smug bastard.

They also receive medical benefits and an elusive, magical phantom known as job security.

Of course, I’ve seen enough comments on articles about adjuncts to know that some people genuinely wonder, “Why are you whining?  It’s your fault!  You chose to go into English.  You chose to teach.  You should have gone into physics or computer programming. You should have known teaching English wasn’t going to pay well.  I’m so much better and smarter than you.  Are you some kind of troglodyte?  Do you live in a cave?”

Yes, I studied English and chose to teach it because I am incredibly stupid.  You are so insightful.

I'm bringing this back, folks.

Glorious.  I’m bringing this back, folks.  All of this.  Flannel, mullets, holes in jeans.  Get ready.  I will rise from the ashes like a mid-90’s phoenix!  Or I’ll just be another run-of-the-mill hipster.

I teach English, specifically writing, because it’s important.  Most employers agree with me.  In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers lists verbal and written communication skills in the top 10 employer-desired skills and qualities:

Now with pictures!

The American Association of Colleges and Universities corroborates this finding and also reports that of the 318 employers surveyed, 80% think colleges and universities should place more emphasis on strong written communication skills.

So, as much as my students and the general public might want to think that math/science rules and English/the humanities drool, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not to employers.

But I think the importance of the humanities goes far beyond simply churning out desirable worker bees.  I don’t strive to simply teach students how to make a paragraph, cite their research, slap a title on it and call it a day; I try to foster the habit of questioning – questioning their assumptions, questioning the world, questioning me.  So many students come into my class never asking why, never thinking or reading against the grain (never doing anything, really, except playing Candy Crush on their phonesIcan’tafford).  I try to change that as much as is possible within the course of a semester.  I agree with Mark Slouka when he writes in Harper’s that, “The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be.”  He goes on to argue for the political value of the humanities:

Because they complicate our vision, pull our most cherished notions out by the roots, flay our pieties. Because theygrow uncertainty. Because they expand the reach of our understanding (and therefore our compassion), even as they force us to draw and redraw the borders of tolerance. Because out of all this work of self-building might emerge an individual capable of humility in the face of complexity; an individual formed through questioning and therefore unlikely to cede that right; an individual resistant to coercion, to manipulation and demagoguery in all their forms. The humanities, in short, are a superb delivery mechanism for what we might call democratic values.

You should read the entirety of his article:  “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School”  Smart stuff.

Education is about more than simply rote learning – spitting out facts, accepting them at face value.  I try to teach my students to consider alternatives, resist closure, interrogate critically the answers that present themselves quickly or easily.  Whether or not I succeed is another story, but I have to try because without this ability, we are automatons. We are Fanny Crowne in Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, sucking down soma and parroting the axioms that have been playing into our sleeping ears since birth.

So I teach with the hope that I can stir the sleepers.

I also teach because I want to help people to think critically, think creatively and express themselves fully.  So many of my students have remarkable ideas swirling around in their heads but lack the ability to fully communicate that vision to others.  I want to help them do that. (Then again, sometimes I wish I could protect the world from the minds of certain students by actually redacting any communication skills they’ve ever learned, ever, in their entire lives, but alas.  Usually they mitigate the written spread of their own crazy well enough on their own – again, it’s like deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs).

And to those who argue that going into the field of math or science would solve my financial/career woes, I will add that I see just as many math and science adjuncts as English adjuncts milling around the adjunct cubicle.  I recognize them.  They’re the ones with the damn answer keys, grading at warp speed while I grade at the speed of a tandem bike minus a second person to pedal with me.  The plight of the adjunct is familiar to the ‘hard sciences’ as well.

When we choose to be teachers, we do not labor under the delusion that we will be wealthy.  I’m sure that at some point in high school or college, we all attended some small group gathering in the home of a teacher whose modest, shabby surroundings made us uncomfortable.  We all had those awkward ‘running into teachers outside of school’ encounters (Its like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.) that made us cringe with unfamiliar pity.  We saw our futures.  I’m sure we all understood that we were not going to make the same money as a neuro-surgeon.  But I think what we did (albeit wrongfully, apparently) assume is that we would make a living wage – you know, enough money to subsist on more than a steady diet of government cheese in a van down by the river.

This could be me in a few years after the bitterness blackens my soul.  And gives me a sex change.

This could be me in a few years after the bitterness blackens my soul. And gives me a sex change.

We believed that education is valued enough in our country to compensate educators accordingly.  Instead, while college administrators enjoy their six figures, we live paycheck to paycheck, praying that something calamitous doesn’t happen in the meantime.

On a lighter note, I’ve compiled a list of possible career alternatives for those who need to supplement their adjunct income:

1) If we have learned anything from watching Breaking Bad it is that teachers can absolutely deal drugs on the side while eluding authorities and also having cancer and mustaches.  However, if you’re an English adjunct like me, maybe don’t start with meth.  You will probably die.  How about a nice, hydroponic grow house?

Tell me the atomic number for Beryllium or I'll blow your damn brain out the back of your skull!  Oh.  Sorry.  Wrong job.  Yes, you may go change your pants now.

Tell me the atomic number for Beryllium right now, you son-of-a-bitch, or I’ll blow your damn brain out the back of your skull! Oh. Sorry. Wrong job. Yes, you may have the lavatory pass now.

2) Also, I hear plasma donation centers and sperm banks are popular refuges for teachers. There are places literally begging for your fluids.  Since I have a seizure at the mere thought of a . . . needle (there, I said it) and I don’t have a penis, any braver or more-penis-having adjuncts out there are free to use this means of making money.

3) Give in, buy some boobie tassels and get ye to the strip club.  Try to find one with a fun name like Starbutts or Leave it to Beavers because that will amuse future employers.  Bring plenty of tissues for when you are crying in a ball of self-loathing in the corner.

4) Cardboard, sharpie and poor hygiene are all you need to make a sizable fortune as a pan-handler.  Most people will assume you are a drug addict or an alcoholic trying to get a fix, so don’t be afraid to play to that.  Be creative.  Throw out some pretend-honesty in the form of a sign reading, “I just want crack and drug cigarettes.” Pedestrians will applaud your candor and reward it with coveted dollar bills they were just going to shove into the g-strings of your colleagues over at Starbutts.

This guy.  Obviously an adjunct in disguise.

This guy. Obviously an adjunct in disguise.

Mmmm.  Alcohol Research.  Speaking of – Happy Murica Day everybody!

murica