Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Workshops for Adjuncts
So this is where I’m hoping someone has developed, or tripped over, something useful. Wise and worldly readers, has anyone seen (or developed) a way to reach significant numbers of adjunct faculty with something useful? Preferably something that doesn’t involve spending money we don’t have?
It's been about 5 years since I've adjuncted, but I probably would have looked at most offers to do a workshop as hoop jumping or seen-and-be-seen opportunities, and not necessarily as something that I could learn from.
My attitude may have been the wrong one. There is a value to being engage and frankly, one never knows what one can learn unless one participates. But I think that's a hurdle that needs to be overcome. Not that you don't know that, but it's worth underscoring.
Nobody would dream of offering workshops on those types of topics to tenured faculty, so why do they think it makes sense to treat adjuncts this way? Frankly, many of our adjuncts have more teaching experience and are more in touch with the realities on the ground, than the people running these workshops. Small wonder, then, that attendance is often low, even though some of these workshops offer a small stipend to adjunct participants.
We have regular required training (eg safety training) in person on a yearly basis, with 6 or 7 sessions offered so that everyone can attend. Then we have required training online (eg gov't compliance) which can be taken whenever at your computer. Occasionally enough people express interest in a particular piece of software or something that the company will actually pay for a training session for a group -- dedicate a room for a couple of days, bring in an instructor. This is sort of like your normal "workshop" approach. I did this for a software package I wanted to learn.
But my husband (who works at the same company) was interested in learning a different software package, very useful to him but without a lot of interest from other employees, so the company actually paid for him to take a four day short course from a private company which specialized in training people on that software.
Are there outside vendors who could provide some of the content that you teach in your workshops? Could people seek out their own training and then get re-imbursed for the cost?
Could you partner with other colleges in the area, and allow their adjuncts to attend your workshops in return for them allowing yours to attend theirs? That way you might be able to give the people the benefit of lots of different dates and times to choose from, without having to pay for all the sessions yourself, and since the pool of people would be larger, you'd get healthier attendance at each.
I've found that the most useful teaching workshops have been very, very specific. Things like, "How to use the online homework system's Perl-based scripting language to write problems with randomly generated values."
Adjuncts will come if the workshop directly affects their teaching at that specific college.
As Anonymous at 7:19 said many adjuncts have more education and experience than some of the workshop presenters and after the first 30 minutes, those of us with more experience and education realize that what we are hearing is the "latest thing" in education and question its usefulness quietly to ourselves. This "latest thing" unspoken label makes us less than enthusiastic about sitting through the presentation.
The answer is money.
The problem is, right now, most adjuncts are tight enough that there's nothing you can offer them that would make them better adjuncts that isn't money. You can give it to them in the form of benefits, or you can increase the salary, or you can just set aside office space.
But fundamentally, compared to financial security, physical health, or the tools necessary to do their jobs, what could possibly be valuable?
You're talking about a population who either dabbles in one or two classes here and there, or goes balls-to-the-wall to support their family.
I was the latter. I taught 15 hours per semester split between 3 institutions, all 1 hour apart. I woke up at 5 am to get to my first class at 8am. From there I went to my next and prepped for late night lecture. I got home at 9pm, graded, prepped for the next day, which was 2 lectures and a lab. I got home at 10pm those nights, graded and prepped for 5am again. Attending a worthless workshop was the furthest thing from my mind. Of much more pressing concern- groceries. Gas, to get to my next job. Sleep. Wondering if the adjunct workspace would be occupied when I got there, and if I'd be able to nab an entire drawer to myself for my papers. Wondering how I could keep my weight under control when there was nothing but fast-food available anywhere near my jobs. Wondering how I could fit job hunting into my schedule. Wondering if I'd actually make it to my kids' concert or games at all that week. Wondering if I'd have any classes to adjunct next semester.
Any system that relies on adjuncts is broken. Focus on mitigating our pain rather than wasting money on a workshop that only serves to inflate the CV of whichever administrator is running it.