Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude #17: What a Difference a Year Makes

A year ago, I commuted between two different community colleges. Both campuses fed me professionally. My peers? Phenomenal. Inspirational. But not having my own space, a place to hang my hat, store my books, or meet with students was taxing. Not to mention having to find parking at two different sites a day or navigating the different cultural and bureaucratic norms of two different colleges.

So the obvious answer for today's Attitude of Gratitude Blog Challenge prompt, "One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for. . . " would be landing a full-time position. 

Love what I get to do. Loved it as an adjunct, too. But I'd be lying if I said the full-time pay, benefits, and security haven't changed my life, dramatically. There have been emotional/psychological changes, too. 

What I've realized post-facto is how being an adjunct messed with my self-esteem and self-worth. I grew up in the era when not having a full-time job or facing joblessness was a sign of a personal failing, a character flaw. I realized just how much of the meritocracy ethos - work  hard, and get rewarded accordingly - I had internalized.

When I began teaching, the latest budget crunch was in full swing, and there were several times my adjunct position was in jeopardy. I faced several summers wondering how I'd pay the rent, and because of the vagaries of different districts' calendars and hiring schedules, I lost priority at one school when I had to accept an offer at another. Jobs were scarce, and I had to take what was offered. 

I'm aware of discussions on education websites, notably the Chronicle of Higher Education, where some have called adjuncts whiners for making, what I believe, are legitimate observations and claims about how their/our work is devalued, how adjuncts should have been wiser about our career choices. 

Perhaps I should have been more practical, less idealistic. But that's not the argument that I'm interested here. 

I'm just saying how funky it was to be find myself on the verge of unemployment for reasons not having to do qualifications, capability, or willingness. My employment situation was up for grabs for reasons out of my control. I became profoundly aware that social, historical, and political situations truly shaped my choices and options. I shouldn't have been surprised to see how agency, to a large degree, is contingent. But I was, and that messed with my sense of self. 

Worse, there I was in the classroom, extolling the virtues of an education to students, arguing that college offers choices and security, when I myself had largely lost both, even with (humble-brag alert) two post-graduate degrees. 

I'm only just realizing how deeply psychologically taxing it was to be a seasonal worker, to be that close to losing work twice and three times a year. So, while the money and benefits are awesome, I am also hella grateful for the peace of mind having a full-time gig affords me. 

Here's to staying grateful for what I've got, and for advocating for adjunct equity. Or better, actual full-time positions for the folks who make it possible for others to have careers.