When my colleagues, the staff writers at Best Colleges Online, published, “25 Telling Facts about Adjunct Faculty Today,” (17 September, 2012), the content rekindled a fire of negative emotions in me over this relentless abuse of a large number of talented caring professionals. I’ve been a single-father, working to support my family by latching onto one temporary teaching contract after another like a monkey swinging frantically from branch to branch to escape a predator. In this case, the predator is poverty.
I have also been fortunate enough to hold full-time positions in higher education in which I was able to help adjunct faculty a bit. However, I was still deeply affected by hearing part-time colleagues share that they had sold their blood plasma to get gas money to come to work or that they had visited local food banks to provide for their families. All of this while working 70-80 hour weeks in the education jungle.
It is completely unjust that this situation has not improved over the nearly three decades I have been an educator and that American culture only seems to value teachers as political pawns or organ grinders’ monkeys who entertain to keep shrinking school budgets afloat. Realizing that this situation won’t change overnight or within a short blog post, I can only offer a few suggestions on what to do to survive in the present.
Here are three financial survival tips for adjunct faculty:
Follow Conventional Wisdom
We’ve all heard this stuff before; yet, most of us could certainly follow at least some of this sound financial advice more closely. The first tip for fiscal survival has to be to follow conventional wisdom by:
• Reducing spending, especially monthly expenses.
• Lessening existing debt as much as possible.
• Focusing on needs and necessities over wants.
• Following the rule of half, which means taking the amount of something you normally use, cutting it by one-half, and seeing if you can get by. If you can, cut it by one-half again until you get to the amount you need to survive.
• Accepting that you may need to work a full-time position related to or outside of education while you teach part-time and search for a full-time position. Underemployment is preferable to unemployment, as is a steady income supplemented by part-time teaching pay.
• Using a sensible, rational approach to finding a full-time teaching position (see my post, ”Six Insider Secrets to Obtaining a Full-time Teaching Position,” (14 May, 2012).
A consideration of conventional wisdom requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves to see where we can cut back in order to move forward. A deeper engagement in our own future is required for fiscal stability. This brings me to tip number two.
Be a Teacherpreneur
The second tip is to embrace being a teacherpreneur (teacher + entrepreneur). Stop letting the dire situation of adjunct teaching control you; rather, you control it. As Nihal ElRayess of Teach for America recently wrote, who fits the definition of an entrepreneur better than teachers, who are typically:
• Driven (4 October, 2012)
ElRayess accurately states that faculty can be entrepreneurs locally (e.g., within their own classroom) or globally. How do adjuncts do this?
Mind Shift’s Tina Barseghian provided a wealth of examples last year in a post called: ”What the Heck Is a ‘Teacherpreneur’”? (11 April, 2011). In summation, her post echoes that of ElRayess and others who argue that teachers have the talent to do much more once they step outside of their specialized labor roles.
What this means for tip #2 is to continue to teach, but add an entrepreneurial pursuit that will not only help you financially in the present, but one that will also help to keep your career fresh and vibrant for the future, producing additional income. Look at your talents within your own field of study and find ways to move forward in new directions beyond the classroom. Consider your pet peeves about education or areas of need. Then do what others have done and become an inventor to meet students’ needs as these teachers did while meeting the financial needs of yourself and your own family.
There’s strength in numbers, and this is especially true when it comes to survival of the fittest within the education jungle. There are two main ways to do this.
First, adjunct faculty must learn to help themselves. Last spring I shared, ”5 Simple Ways Adjuncts Can Help Each Other,” (28 March, 2012). In summation, these were to:
1. Build community with local adjunct faculty.
2. Save money and time by cost sharing and in-kind exchanges.
3. Communicate with one another professionally.
4. Collaborate, especially in professional development activities.
5. Provide miscellaneous support based on individual need.
These are some ways adjuncts can group together to assist one another in the short-term. However, long-term involvement to improve the financial situation of part-time and contingent faculty is needed.
Therefore, the second way faculty must join forces is by getting involved with some of the larger part-time faculty organizations. Here are a few organizations devoted to supporting adjunct faculty interests long-term:
• The New Faculty Majority brings faculty together to educate the public, advocate, litigate, and legislate on issues related to adjunct faculty. This organization also has a non-profit foundation.
• The Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor is an international grassroots movement that seeks to equalize the status and treatment of contingent faculty.
• The American Association of University Professors, which seeks “to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.
• Local adjunct faculty organizations, such as this one at Henry Ford Community College.
Overall, it’s certainly not easy to survive financially as adjunct faculty, but being proactive in the short and long terms rather than simply accepting the plight can help improve the situation for everyone. Feel free to share any additional survival tips in the “Comments” area below.
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