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Chaparral 2013-2014: 22.3 The Adjunct Room

The Adjunct Room (December 2013)

The Adjunct Room

by Deirdre Mendoza

Fluorescent lights hover overhead. A flier begging someone to give Bob Mackie a home (the kitten, not the designer) hangs among posters of literary heroes Robert Frost and Zora Neale Hurston. And a rotation of flags (currently we’re hosting Ireland’s) adds an odd if humorous twist, along with a reminder that we are teaching English to a multi-cultural population. In this former storage room on the second floor of the Library Building, we English adjuncts spend hours grading papers and talking about teaching and the brittle stuff of hectic lives. Pushing aside snacks and coffee, we greet our students, attempting to clarify, repackage, or simply repeat that which could not be understood in the classroom.

Students often see the task of writing as a deadly opponent over which they know they must somehow triumph. As the conversation shifts from pending assignments, students share their wins as well as their grief. They detail car accidents, illnesses, deaths in the family, tours of duty, work challenges, career aspirations, hopeful love affairs and more. Nodding our heads, we reluctantly play therapist, counselor, and coach. Or we fret, subject them to light admonishments, exhale loudly, or try to console them, remembering that many students are doing the best they can with a bad hand. So, despite the decor, or lack thereof, I’ve grown very fond of The Adjunct Room and those who frequent it. My sense is that our little office serves as an indelible metaphor for the adjunct experience itself.

In 2007, freshly hatched from an MFA program, I was entrusted by Michael Ritterbrown, Dean of Instruction and former English division chair, to teach a developmental English 191 class. I had more than a decade of credits as a writer, some teaching experience, one or two pedagogy seminars in grad school, a department-approved handbook, and, above all, a desire to teach. Michael kindly convinced me that if I did my best to show up and follow the syllabus I had created, no one would get hurt. And he was right. My students and I made it through that first semester unscathed. But it was largely because of the abundant resources I found in The Adjunct Room. Slumped in a wobbly chair with a stack of papers in my lap, the aging fan batting hot air, I found a captive audience for my first-year anxieties. Tell me if you think my assignment’s too hard? Too easy? Do a lot of your students have trouble with fragments? Look at this!-- do you really think someone would plagiarize so blatantly? Have you tried Gina’s tacos?

Yes, I was green, but each day as I listened to the veterans discussing how to decipher passages from The Big Sleep, The House of Sand and Fog, The Heart of Darkness, and Pride and Prejudice, while sleuthing their way to thesis statements, (Did you mean to say, earnest or earn less?) I learned the principles of teaching that extend well beyond the classroom. The experienced adjuncts hailed the accomplishments of remarkable student writers, and offered tricks for classroom management that never fail to make the job easier. I learned about handling defiant students with a seat reassignment or a quick chat after class. From the rookies, I learned that it’s okay to stumble through the semester, hoping to do it more consistently and more gracefully next time around.

By hanging around The Adjunct Room, perhaps I’ve understood why people are always telling me that teaching is a noble profession. I am privileged to grade papers among published authors, part-timers who hold doctorates from prestigious institutions, a respected critic at the Los Angeles Times, credited screenwriters and playwrights, recognized poets, intellectuals who consistently publish and present papers, textbook authors, a renowned singer-songwriter who played at Woodstock, successful entrepreneurs, pop culture aficionados, organizers and activists, former marketing consultants, bloggers, Huffington Post Op-Ed writers, and teachers who must provide for their families by doing this noble act at three or more other colleges--every semester. These same folks are not just willing, but eager to share a PowerPoint lecture, a time-saving method, or a well-crafted assignment. They’ll offer a second opinion about a questionable paper with the certainty of a surgeon, or commiserate about the workload, if that’s what you need. And most are just as eager to hear about your stellar kids, the kitten you rescued, the Newfoundland travel adventure, the eHarmony date that ended in disaster, or the upcoming wedding plans.

During my years at GCC, The Adjunct Room hasn’t changed a lot. Yes, the national flags come and go, and a few inspiring poems appear on the walls, but the mysterious buzzing noise that conjures a long night at a cheap motel, remains a constant. The desks are often sticky and there aren’t enough chairs at primetime to accommodate the rush of students and faculty. But the students keep coming. They arrive with heavy backpacks, timidly clutching their marked-up papers, or hopeful that a few words of encouragement and a few hours of revision will help them earn that elusive A.
Is this really your office? they ask, surveying the scene. Yep, I say, this is where the magic happens. And sometimes it does.


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