I have been an adjunct for almost a year now. Last January, amid a flurry of stress, and uncertainty about my future, I decided I would not adjunct after this spring semester. Actually, I thought about it long and hard, but it didn’t feel official until the division chair asked me how many sections I was interested in signing up for; I made an appointment with the chair, and explained that I would not be coming back.
My decision, ultimately, was a financial one. When I needed a job in Kansas City and didn’t find one right away I applied for an adjunct position. I didn’t feel comfortable with adjuncting because I knew what the working conditions would be like, but I figured an adjunct job was better than nothing. Why not continue doing the thing I love instead of waiting for a callback? But I quickly found out I couldn’t live on an adjunct’s pay.
(I know I could have pieced together several courses from several schools, like so many adjuncts do. But it would have been at the expense of my dissertation--which already takes up a lot of my time outside of class--and my home life. I am aware many adjuncts do just that, and they balance things just fine. However, I decided not to so.)
My feelings wavered between excitement (what does my future hold? It could hold anything!) and fear (what does my future hold? It could hold nothing at all!) Plus, I have financial obligations; what would happen with that? And what about teaching?
As I labored away at my dissertation and prepped lesson plans, I wondered. Would I be happy if I didn’t teach for a while? Should I find a full-time job outside of academia? Maybe higher ed administration is a better fit for me? Would anyone even consider me, without my diploma in hand? Life after May seemed like one big question mark built with questions in a tiny font.
In the meantime, I re-discovered my love for writing. I struggled with the revisions for my first chapter, and tried to deal with that by free writing and developing a writing routine. Now, I make sure to write every day, and I’m writing about much more than just my dissertation. I am writing like I used to when I was an undergrad. Writing and literature were the things that propelled me to become an English major a long time ago. Teaching was an extension of that: I wanted to share the pleasure of reading with others and help them read texts with a critical eye.
Even though my holy grail was to teach literature, along the way I also became a writing instructor. I learned more about the craft of writing than I ever did as a student. I don’t know if my students believe me, but the things I teach in my writing classes are the things I practice in my own writing. I have learned that writing is not a matter of memorizing rules and style guides.
I have discovered that these things, writing and reading, still move me.
As I reflected upon these things this semester, I wondered if I’d ever go back to teaching. I could stay in touch outside of the classroom with the things I love. My degrees and skills are valid outside of the academy, even if in a different capacity. And I had fallen in love with my research again—it was a matter of recognizing that it should not be the only thing that defines me. It’s okay to have other interests as well.
I have applied for academic and non-academic jobs, and so far I think I’ll be okay outside of the classroom for now. But it wasn’t until I read this blog post at Red Lips and Academics that I really thought about my relationship to teaching. As I commented there, I am still mourning the fact that I will not teach in the fall. I hope to come back to the classroom. Maybe it won’t be a traditional classroom. Maybe it won’t be in a tenure-track position. One thing is certain: I will always be engaged with writing, literature, and teaching.
Goodnight, College Classroom, and good luck.
Kansas City, Missouri in the USA
Liana Silva is a PhD candidate in English at Binghamton University in New York, and a writing instructor at a community college in Kansas City, MO. She is currently working on her dissertation, an interdisciplinary study on the concept of home and urban space in African American and Puerto Rican cultural productions. On top of that she is busy raising a daughter and settling into their new home in Kansas City. You can follow her short bursts of thought on twitter.com/literarychica or her longer, better organized ideas at soundingoutblog.com