Editors’ Note: In recognition of National Adjunct Walkout Day this past February 25, the GCC Guild chose to solicit personal stories by GCC adjunct faculty about the impact of adjunct wages and working conditions and you can see that story here: https://campusguides.glendale.edu/chaparral2346. While compiling those stories, Chaparral also received fond, funny, thoughtful, and practical stories of adjunct experiences, to which we devote this column, and these three stories. Thank you to all of the contributors, and to our readership. Comments welcome and appreciated.
When Faulty Sentences Lead to Cornel West
Each semester I must find a context in which to teach foundations of composition and essay structure. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I have an agenda. I assign books, articles, and documentaries that I am interested in discussing, analyzing and, yes, promoting. I’ve recycled several favorite texts over the years with the intention of introducing a diverse group of voices and exposing students to a variety of writing situations.
Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Cheever, Joyce Carol Oates, and Malcolm Gladwell are among the rock stars of my evolving syllabus for English 101.
Last winter session, we read articles about Ferguson, racial profiling, police brutality, and the whole debacle in New York City surrounding the death of Eric Garner, the outspoken mayor, and the slain officers. Discussion turned to heated debate, as well as a lesson in cultural sensitivity for me and the students – and a frustrating and futile effort to get a few folks to refrain from texting in their laps. In five weeks, we covered a lot of territory about self, identity, race, class, authority, rebellion, and other matters of the heart and mind.
A student who had been struggling with sentence-level errors stayed after class a few times to talk about his not-so-great papers. I’ll call him Martin. As we talked, the paper Martin wrote moved to a back burner. He revealed a lot about the challenges of his upbringing in East Los Angeles, and his arrest for walking home drunk after a party one night. Apparently, he was handcuffed roughly at the station, and when he complained to officers, he was told to get over it – in cruder terms.
“My cousin’s a cop, and he says people have no idea what cops go through,” Martin told me, as the classroom emptied. “But I brought up Ferguson, and what we talked about in class, and we ended up kind of arguing—but not arguing—about it. We’re cousins but we never talked like that before.”
While I’m sure this kind of thing happens more often than we realize, it’s great when students share this kind of exchange. For me, it’s the payback that we don’t ask for, the overtime that never shows up in the paycheck. The good stuff. Martin did spend quality time in The Learning Center identifying fragments and run-ons, but I can’t say that in the few weeks we had together I saw a remarkable change in his writing. Martin earned a generous “B” for the short session, but his grade was beside the point. The thing that really moved me about Martin happened after the final exam. Martin thanked me for teaching the class, and told me that he had checked out a few books from the library about race relations. He was considering switching his major in college from not sure to Poli-Sci. He was thinking about social change, how to work with his community of origin, and which activist groups he could join at Glendale College.
“Have you heard of a guy called Cornel West?” he asked, pulling out a thick book with CW’s famed gap-toothed grin on the cover.
“Yes,” he’s a very exciting writer, speaker, activist. He’s often a guest on Bill Maher,” I said.
“Maher is a political talk show host and a comedian with some controversial views,” I explained. “You should Google him.”
Adjunct faculty, English
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A few years ago, one of my former hospitality students came looking for me in the office to beg me to add him back into a class that I had dropped him from on week one for being a no-show. This was the first time I had met him. In the office, he had the bedraggled and desperate demeanor of something the cat just dragged in. I smiled and teased him a bit and playfully gave him a hard time, demanding to know why he was a no-show on week one. He blushed and apologized profusely for being a no-show, and said that there was an emergency and circumstances beyond his control that prevented him from attending class the first week of the semester. I then gently teased him and asked him, “What happened to you? Did you just get out of jail?” He laughed nervously and just apologized again and begged for reinstatement into the class. I chuckled, and told him I’d be able to add him back in the class. He thanked me profusely and left the office very relieved. He turned out to be a very nice student, and was always engaged in class during the semester.
Well, fast-forward three years, and he is now part of the management team of a local, privately owned hotel chain, and now willingly guest lectures to my hospitality classes. During his last lecture to a group of aspiring hospitality students, he blurted out and shared with the class that “Mrs. Lao saved my life! On the first day that I met her to ask her to add back into her class, I had just gotten out of jail!” Imagine my surprise at guessing correctly that he had just gotten out of jail for a DUI on the day we had met! He proceeded to tell the class that he didn’t know how or why, but that “Mrs. Lao must have seen something in me and believed in me,” and that I had inspired him to continue to pursue his studies and to not give up on his goals in spite of any obstacles and mistakes. He then proceeded to tell the group “if you follow Mrs. Lao, she will steer you in the right direction and guide you towards success.” It truly warms my heart to know that I can make a positive impact in a student’s life. This kid calls me his Chinese mama. And I have other students who adopt me and call me their mama. To all the adjuncts out there who feel discouraged, displaced and unrecognized, please know that your positive influence and kind guidance changes students' lives. Few students will come back and tell you this, but know that your students value you and are grateful for your influence and role modeling more than you will ever know. Carry on and continue to be a shining light to your students. You are capable of changing lives and restoring hope to some students in tough situations one at a time, and those students in turn will influence and help others in wonderful ways. And they will remember you fondly.
Adjunct faculty, Hospitality & Tourism
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There are always struggles being an adjunct here at GCC or anywhere else for that matter. But, as we all know, no one can take better care of us than we can. And so we must. Not ever knowing for sure if you will have your classes from semester to semester is nerve-wracking, so what I do is have all kinds of alternatives - a "plan B," just in case. Then your problem may be too much work, but better to have too much going on than not enough. Plan on volunteering to work on a committee or two or three....knowing that you can ask for a stipend for the time and work you put in. Plus you get to be a part of the workings of GCC so that you feel more connected and feel that your presence and opinion is actually of some value. Take advantage of the group health care plan that for me worked very well. Take advantage of the health center--we have nutritional interns that will spend at least an hour to work with you and your diet. As faculty, we are allowed to use the Fitness Center. Why pay to belong to a gym when you have one right here on campus with showering facilities as well. GCC has a lot to offer....not just for students but also for faculty!
Adjunct faculty, Dance and Physical Education
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