A Thank You Letter To All Underappreciated (And Underpaid) Adjunct Professors

Daniella Urdinlaiz
Daniella Urdinlaiz

Dear Professor,

I’m not sure how you got into teaching at a community college. Your stories are all different. Maybe for you it’s because you wanted all the teaching aspects of professorship and none of the panicked research and desperate grant-seeking. Maybe it’s something you fell into because no other jobs for Masters of Humanities seemed to exist. Maybe you started in community college yourself, and you took the job while remembering fondly that special instructor that made a difference. Maybe you find joy in working with adult learners and people looking for their second chance. Regardless of how you got into it, you all stay for the same reason. Love.

It’s easy to see your love in the classroom. You give hours of unpaid tutoring to international students who desperately want to succeed but lack the mastery of English to do so. You create curriculum that both challenges the brilliant and accommodates the struggling so that everyone can get what they need from your class. You provide not only instruction, but friendship, mentorship, and sometimes therapy to students who are here because they are determined to escape abuse, poverty, drug addiction, criminal histories, and mental illness. You give your all to your students in an effort to help them build a better future for themselves and their families. You believe in students who do not believe in themselves. That, professor, is love.

Unfortunately, it is all too often an unrequited love. Only a quarter of the students you teach will stay enrolled, and only a tenth of them will finish a bachelor’s degree. For every eager, hard-working, and dedicated student, there are three more that don’t care and never will. Students with infinite potential simply disappear from your classroom for reasons you will never know. You see the addicted relapse, the convicted reoffend, and the abused return to their abusers. You watch failing students give up every day while you sit in your cubicle for “office” hours, waiting to help those students who never come.

All of this time, compassion, guidance, and encouragement that you give to your students is a sacrifice. You are paid well below minimum wage considering all the hours of real work you put into this. You live at poverty level while helping students rise out of poverty themselves. You operate for months on 5 hours of sleep. You give years of your life to this work because you love it so deeply. Your reward? The glamorous title of “Adjunct Professor.” You aren’t an adjunct because you aren’t a brilliant teacher, you can’t work full time, or you simply don’t deserve it. You are an adjunct because administrators think that our retention rates will improve with newer computers, prettier hallways, more events, and better courtyards. They think that money is better spent on making the campus snazzy than on giving their teachers a living wage.

This “campus revitalization” work of administrators is not why we stay. We stay because you give us the time and attention that we so desperately need. We stay because you get to know and care about each of us. We stay because, to you, we are more than a student ID number. We stay because you have invested in us despite the fact that our administrators have not invested in you. We stay because you sparked our curiosity, encouraged our contemplation, and rewarded our creativity. We stay because you have instilled us with confidence in our abilities. We stay because we see love emanating from you in the classroom. We stay because we love you too. Thank you for adjuncting. TC mark

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