Dispatches from Adjunct Land: Ending a Class

The end of a class is bittersweet. After nine weeks, I’m tired, too, and ready for a break. But I’ve gotten to know my students, and wish I could spend more time with them. I think about them after class has ended and wonder if they use what I have taught them. I hope they do well in the future. And I think about my future, too.

Because the toughest part of adjuncting is uncertainty. My class has ended and I have not received any offers for new ones. My contract for this school, and every one I have worked for, explicitly states that I’m not guaranteed classes. I have some time off, which is nice, but I have no idea when it will end.

Ending a class feels like herding cats. One must remind students about due dates (my school allows late work except for final projects), about participation requirements, and assignment requirements. Many students hate thinking about the work they need to do, and sometimes I hate it, too.

Grading isn’t fun. I know, people ask “Then why assign work?” It’s an imperfect system, one that needs improvement, but it’s the system we have. Educators go over lessons and assign work so students can practice. A final project, such as an essay or test, is used to assess mastery of the concepts. Obviously not all learners succeed at all tasks, and that’s where the flaw lies. I think it’d be pretty cool to offer a test to students who prefer that and an essay to students who prefer that.

Indeed, several of my college classes did end that way: one could create a project, take a final, or write an essay. Not surprisingly, these were classes led by veteran, tenured professors. Those lower in the hierarchy generally don’t have that kind of freedom. That said, I will reveal my bias: I think an essay is a good way to complete a writing class. In my darker hours, I even think that essay should be pass/fail.

Grading papers leaves me feeling shredded, emotionally and physically exhausted. I like to batch grade, and just get it all done in one go. This makes it easier to keep track of how I’m grading and ensures all papers/students are held to the same standards. However, after about four hours, I need a break. At three-to-four papers an hour, that means I need to block out at least five hours of grading time, plus time for breaks for a typical 20 student class.

Additionally, I eat a lot of cookies and Hot Pockets while grading.

So the physical part makes sense (five hours hunched over papers, yuck), but why the emotions? I always feel like a failure. What more could I have done to help these students? What could I have done to help Sally better understand sentence fragments? Or help Sam understand and use APA? Why didn’t Sandy use my feedback? I genuinely want them all to succeed and do my best to offer the feedback and tools to do so.

One problem is that I view education and grades differently than many of my students. Not to suggest I’m better, but the fact I went into teaching should tell you something. Success to me is an A, maybe an A-. However, I was a traditional student: did well in high school, went straight to college. I often worked full time, but at flexible, student-oriented jobs. My mother had. . .issues, but I wasn’t directly responsible for her, or anyone else’s, care.

My students tend to be non-traditional students, usually working adults with families. (I teach online; the average online university student is a 33-year-old woman who works and attends school part time.) Success for my students could be passing the course, no matter the grade, or even just turning in the paper at all. And since I teach a class so early in their academic career, I have no way of knowing if maybe the lessons will click in a year from now.

This most recent class was extra-difficult to grade. It was a light load, as far as grading goes, just 15 papers. However, as I wrote about recently, I had to put my cat to sleep. For many years, she helped me complete homework and then grade homework. Suddenly I was on my own: no cat to sit on my lap, no cat to walk across my keyboard. My other cat tried to step up, but she’s a much more lenient grader.

A cat sits next to a computer.
Alegria helps me grade. She had high standards.

Entering final grades is tense, too. What if I goof up? Certainly one can adjust a grade if an error was made, but it’s a hassle, so it’s better to get it right the first time. Some financial aid is dependent upon grades and I’d hate for a student to lose out because I made a clerical error. I goofed up once or twice as a grad student, but I haven’t had problems since then, thank goodness.

I’ve had a few students argue about their grades after the fact: they ask me to accept a late paper or regrade an assignment or add extra credit for this or that reason. I usually have school/department policy on my side, but it’s still a pain to deal with. Once I’m done grading, I’m ready to move on.

I like to use the time just after a class ends to make notes about what to adjust, what to add, what to delete. I ask my students to tell me what they liked and didn’t (and why), and I’m grateful when they do. All of the educators I know are constantly adjusting assignments and syllabi.

Once that’s done, I like to clear my mind. Sometimes I have jump immediately into the next class, sometimes I have a week or two off, and sometimes I’m in my current situation: no class in sight. I try to find a balance between relaxing and taking time for my own interests. Usually I just spend all of my time on Tumblr.

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Natasha

History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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