Adjunct Hero: Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum works at four institutes of higher learning at the same time. That's right, four.
Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum's poems, essays, reviews, podcasts, and interviews recently appear or are forthcoming in The Writers Chronicle, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee, The Missouri Review, storySouth, Blackbird, InsideHigherEd.com, andGlimmer Train, among others. He writes a web-column, poetry=am^k, as a Contributing Editor for The Southern Indiana Review. He is editor of an E-anthology, Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days, to be published by Upper Rubber Boot Books in 2013. He is also Founder and Editor of PoemoftheWeek.org and Managing Editor of AdHominem.weebly.com. Andrew holds an M.F.A from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and is an Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing and English at the University of Colorado-Denver, Metro State College of Denver, Community College of Denver, and CCCOnline. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado.Name/Age/Academic degrees
Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, 31, MFA Poetry: Southern Illinois University- Carbondale (SIUC)
Tell us where you teach, what you teach, and how long you’ve been teaching.
I teach at four different institutions depending on the semester: University of Colorado-Denver (UC-D, Intro to Creative Writing), Metro State University of Denver (MetroState, English Composition I & II), Community College of Denver (CCD, English Composition I & II), and Colorado Community College System Online (CCCOnline.org, English Composition I & II, Creative Writing I & II).
I’ve been teaching for six years. I was a GTA at SUIC from 2006-2009 and started Adjuncting professionally in Fall 2010.
Tell us the story how you wound up as an adjunct.
After achieving my MFA in Creative Writing, I moved to Los Angeles with my wife who had secured a job in a neurogenetics lab at USC. Luckily, she was able to get me a job in the lab as well; I hadn’t had any time to look for a job at that point and living in LA on her salary alone would have been difficult. So I spent a little over a year mapping mouse DNA for the various scientists in the lab examining the link between certain genes and autism.
In the summer of 2010, I decided it was time to get back in the saddle and look for teaching jobs. I quickly discovered there weren’t any positions advertised that I actually qualified for (think tenure track jobs that require book publications…). With the hopes that I might find unadvertised Adjunct positions, I sent my CV and cover letter to nearly every institution of higher learning in Los Angeles County, about 75 different colleges, universities, community colleges.
I ended up with an Adjunct Professorship in English Composition and Technical Writing at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA and at Pacific States University in downtown LA. I also tutored with a few different companies and taught in a “Korean Afterschool,” a college-prep program mostly populated by first-generation Korean middle/highschoolers.
When my wife got into the University of Denver’s (DU) PhD in Developmental Psychology program about a year later, I successfully applied for positions at UC-Denver, Metro State, CCD, and CCCOnline.org.What role do adjuncts play at your particular institution?
Not much. We teach classes and are otherwise paid little attention. There are some attempts at these institutions to integrate our thoughts/experiences when it comes to benefits, pay, and the curriculum, but that voice is minimal. Some are surprisingly generous when it comes to providing funding for conferences, which is a great, great help. But my role is pretty minimal when it comes to the institutions themselves.Give us a typical day, or week, if you prefer?
I’m a writer, so I get up at 6/7 everyday and write until between 10 and noon, depending on a variety of circumstances. I teach Monday-Thursday starting at 1. From then on I’m either in the classroom, planning for class, grading papers, meeting with students, or attending various meetings until about 9 in the evening.
Every single minute of my day is dedicated to something regarding my writing or my teaching. If I fail to adhere to this schedule, I pay for it later, so I do everything I can to follow my own directives. Thank goodness for Google Calendar.
My Fridays are free, so I run errands and such. Saturdays and Sundays I dedicate to professional pursuits such as writing reviews, interviewing authors, preparing for conferences, etc… If things are really busy that week, I also catch up with school work on the weekends.
What’s the most rewarding part about teaching? Or, thinking of it another way, what keeps you coming back?
It’s easily the students. I was recently talking to my wife about my struggles with my schedule, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t appropriately thanked my students for being so energetic and interested in the work. When I went in the next day to say just that, one of them had brought in cupcakes. True, cupcakes and learning aren’t necessarily synonymous, but it shows the sorts of students I’ve had the last few months. They like to learn and they like to have fun. What more can you ask for? There’s nothing better than watching people grow right before your eyes and being the person who facilitates that. Sure, it has a lot to do with me, but it has a WHOLE lot to do with the willingness of students to engage in the material of the class and in the community I try to foster.
I’m also lucky to have students of all ages and backgrounds at my various institutions. I learn a lot from my older students who are coming back to school after having lived lives much fuller than my own, and I also learn a lot from my students who come from different parts of the world and from different socio-economic backgrounds. One of the best things about teaching writing (be it Comp or CW) is that you don’t just deal in writing, you deal in thinking and in thinking, particularly, about complex and often disturbing issues in our culture. I have only one perspective but get to try on my students’ perspectives everyday. I think I understand my community and the world much better as a result.
Finally, I really enjoy the autonomy of teaching. Sure, there are times when bosses are part of the equation, but unlike other professions I’ve had (chef, political organizer, landscaper), you’re pretty much on your own. When you need help, it’s there; the rest of the time you’re trusted to do your job without someone looking over your shoulder. There’s a freedom in that that I’m not sure exists in most other professions.What are your greatest frustrations in your job?
Well, my only real frustration is the pay. I recently published an article in AWP’s Writer’s Chronicle Job List that looks at ways to make money beyond the academy. Part of the article examines the pay rate of adjuncts. I found that the average pay for a course is approximately $2500, which matched up with my experience almost perfectly. I have to teach 6 classes just to make 30 grand a year. That’s without benefits of any kind. So it’s really quite a bit less than 30 a year.
I have another essay in the works that asks Where is all that tuition/fee money going?I haven’t yet found an answer, but it's definitely not to Adjuncts, and it doesn’t appear as if it will start moving in that direction any time soon. This clearly has an effect on the quality of teaching our future leaders are receiving, and I think we run the risk of losing great teachers when they can’t move up to better paid teaching gigs. The amount of teaching many Adjuncts have to do in order to pay the bills doesn’t seem terribly sustainable.
Tell us your dream job (within reason, of course), number of sections, what you’re teaching, and how much you’re paid.
Almost everything I do serves the art of the poem and how I believe poems should be composed. I want to have a voice in how we talk about poetry and how we teach it to students, teachers, readers, and writers alike. So I’m definitely hoping to have a full-time teaching gig some day in the not-so-distant future. I also envision being a Dana Gioia/Kim Addonizio type. Both have managed to make reasonable lives for themselves as independent scholars and with their writing. People listen to their ideas about how to write poems, they have time to write, and they are actually read. What could be better?
What’s the plan to get to that destination? (Or elsewhere?)
Well, my plan is to publish a book of poems or two in the next few years and be qualified for better jobs in higher education and/or as an independent scholar. This, of course, has little to do with me. Publishing a book is kind of like gambling: you send out your book in the blind hope an editor likes it. In my case, I haven’t yet hit the jackpot, though I’ve heard a lot of nice things about my work and about my collection.
There’s not much else I know of that you can do in the poetry publishing world to put a book out there, so I do just about everything else I can think of to advance in my field. If you go to my website, AndrewMK.com (http://www.andrewmk.com), you’ll see that I publish poems on a regular basis. You’ll also see that I publish reviews of contemporary collections of poetry/short stories and novels, conduct interviews with authors, publish essays on various topics, and produce a podcast.
I am founder and editor of PoemoftheWeek.org, a sort of online anthology/forum of what I call “Lyric-Narrative” poems (I’m working on an essay on this notion right now as well) that’s been in existence for over five years. I write a web-column called Poetry=am^k as a Contributing Editor for Southern Indiana Reviewand am Managing Editor of the online magazine of fine art Adhominem.weebly.com.
I’m also editing an anthology of Apocalyptic Literature entitled Apocalypse Now: Poetry & Prose from the End of Days that will be released on Dec 21, 2012 by Upper Rubber Boot Books. It’s should include works by Joyce Carol Oates, Pinckney Benedict, Brian Evenson, Kyle Minor, Kelly Link, Judy Jordan, TR Hummer, Rodney Jones, Kevin Prufer, and Brian Barker to name a few. I usually have a few panels at AWP’s annual writers’ conference, tutor students on the side in Composition and Creative Writing, and take advantage of basically every single professional opportunity that crosses my path.
I guess I’m building my CV in the hopes that when the book comes out, I’ll be able to show employers that I have a range of qualifications. I’m also trying to build a CV that shows I’m worth listening to. My ultimate goal is to pay homage to my craft and to teach people why I think poetry is important and what I think a good poem is in the first place.
Hopefully, I’m following the right path!
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my experiences and for considering me for this blog. It’s a real honor.
To nominate an adjunct hero of your own, email John Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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