#dayofhighered Adjunct Hero - Keverlee Burchett

Rather than talking about myself on this #dayofhighered, I bring you our second Adjunct Hero.

April 2, 2012

In honor of #dayofhighered, I present our second Adjunct Hero, Keverlee Burchett. Ms. Burchett was easy to find because she and I share an office, which has allowed me to witness her dedication and heroism first hand.

In addition to being a tireless instructor of writing, Keverlee is a published poet, most recently in the prestigious Southeast Review.

All Adjunct Hero nominations are welcome at [email protected].

- John Warner



Name/Age/Academic degrees

Keverlee Burchett / 28 / B.A. College of Charleston, M.F.A. Purdue University

Tell us where you teach, what you teach, and how long you’ve been teaching.

College of Charleston, 2008-Present, Introductory Composition

The Art Institute of Charleston, 2011-Present, College Skills (remedial writing), English 101 and 102, and soon, apparently, Public Speaking

Burke High School, 2008-Present, Poetry Writing, through a non-profit organization

Purdue University, 2005-2008, Introductory Composition and Intro Creative Writing (I count this, even though I was in graduate school at the time, and so better paid than I am now.)

Tell us the story how you wound up as an adjunct.

I finished graduate school in the spring of ’08 and applied to a bunch of jobs in the non-profit industry.  I am the worst kind of idealist, the kind that imagines herself weighing babies in an open-air clinic or chaining herself to some object. I care about a lot of issues, so I’d applied for jobs all over the board, but mostly in the realm of sustainable agriculture, and specifically in non-profit, educational endeavors. I wanted to work with poor kids. I wanted to feed poor kids. But I didn’t get a single bite, and then graduate school was over, so I WWOOFed for a summer (this is a program that puts “willing workers” to work on organic farms in exchange for room (in my case, a repurposed chicken shack) and board. Then, when the summer was over and I was in a panic, I returned to my hometown and scored some sections at my alma mater, and filled in the gaps with nannying for a former professor and teaching poetry at an inner-city high school.

What role do adjuncts play at your particular institution?

I’m not sure how to answer this question. When I first returned to the College of Charleston, there were of a lot of adjuncts in my department. Then, after a semester or two, all the English adjuncts were let go in one fell swoop. But the next semester I (and a few others) were back in the classroom—I guess we couldn’t completely get rid of adjunct labor.

As an institution, I believe we are trying to depend less and less on adjuncts, or to treat them better. At least, I think this is the situation. There are committees and surveys about what we adjuncts would most like to improve about our lot.  I am not on these committees. I feel a little guilty about not participating more in the process of reforming the system that’s keeping me down (and instead, noting that some of my favorite professors from undergrad are fighting the fight for me), but my consistent (and possibly lame) excuse is that I teach three jobs and try to run a Poets-in-the-Schools program, and time is finite.

At the Art Institute, a for-profit institution focusing on marketable arts, like fashion design and culinary arts, it seems like adjuncts (who after a few quarters are then categorized as “part time” employees, with no discernable benefits) are the preferred type of labor, for obvious reasons.  The climate is very different at this institution. On the one hand, we are made to share cubicles rather than have our own, as the full time employees do. But on the other, we’re encouraged to participate more in faculty goings-on, and we’re required to attend faculty meetings (which I usually skip at the College, since I don’t feel quite as included that department) and develop ourselves as teachers, since, as I was told at a recent department meeting, “adjunct faculty are less experienced and more in need of training.” This at an institution where many of the instructors are well-trained in their art form, but with little or no training in education or pedagogy.

Give us a typical day, or week, if you prefer?

Now that I’m employed in only teaching, as opposed to teaching-and-nannying, or teaching-and-farming, scheduling is a lot easier. A year ago I would teach in the mornings, then change out of grown-up clothes, slather on sunscreen, go do manual labor for the rest of the day, and then return home, sun burnt, and try to answer student emails and grade papers.

Since I’m now teaching at two institutions, one on the semester system and one on the quarter system, I try to keep my schedule as simple as possible, teaching at one school on MWF and the other on TR. I tuck the high school into the gaps. My chair at College of Charleston has been exceptionally generous in scheduling me in very workable ways, even allowing me to pick my own schedule last semester, with the knowledge that I have two departments to work with. At the Art Institute, I tend to teach evening classes, so that means Tuesdays and Thursdays are big catch-up days for grading and then I’ll go in to teach from 6-8, or 5-9.

What’s the most rewarding part about teaching? Or, thinking of it another way, what keeps you coming back?

There are a few things I love the most about teaching, but what keeps me coming back is that it feels like I’m doing something valuable for the world. Not all of the time. Much of the time it feels like I’m running on a treadmill. But the little moments, like when students say “I can’t go see X any more without thinking of Y, since I took your class,” go a long way.

Also, I like the fact that teaching allows me to keep learning. I’m constantly learning from my students, colleagues, from experiences I have in the college community. I’m probably one of those perpetual students at heart. I feel like I could go to school forever. Since I can’t, teaching is the next best thing.

What are your greatest frustrations in your job?

Besides the amount of grading that I do, which is greatly exacerbated by the time and thought I put into grading each paper (a problem I’m trying to work on), I’d say my greatest frustration is that I don’t get to follow my students through their education. Since I only teach first-year writing at the College, I never have students again, so I don’t get to see how they progress over the course of their college careers, or how my class impacted them (or didn’t) beyond their freshman year.

At the Art Institute, I do have students for multiple classes, but the progress is less visible there, mainly because a) we teach for 10 week quarters, and I question how much of the writing process can really be taught in, say, ten 4-hour classes, and b) though a minority of intro writing students at any school really want to improve their writing, the impetus to learn at this institution in this class is far lower than anywhere else I’ve seen. I am a hoop to be crawled through so that students can get into the kitchen or studio.

Tell us your dream job (within reason, of course), number of sections, what you’re teaching, and how much you’re paid.

I seriously cannot answer this question. This is perhaps a contributing factor to why I’m an adjunct. Every year I apply to things, and, as I said before, they vary wildly. I have lots of dreams. I embrace them all totally.  The only thing they all have in common is that they offer me health benefits.

What’s the plan to get to that destination? (Or elsewhere?)

Having been through a recent deluge of rejections, I am in the brainstorming phase of the new plan. Until then, I take things one semester at a time, since that is the length of my contract.


John Warner doesn’t tweet all that often, but when he does, it’s from @biblioracle.


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