Adjunct of the Year

As part of the consideration for Adjunct of the Year, I wrote a brief argument in favor of myself. I had some help with this (as to all authors who want to turn out the best content they can) and I hate for our hard work to languish on my hard drive. Here’s my argument in favor of me as adjunct of the year:

Anyone who qualifies as Adjunct of the Year must have certain basic traits: organization, flexibility, a sense of humor, and faith.  I am a person who embodies all those character qualities. However, perhaps the quality I am most proud to exude is my daily choice to see the greatness in people that they are not always capable of seeing in themselves.

Frequently, the students who arrive on day one of a semester in ENG 111 have had little to no time in college classes. When I realized that this could be their first ever college class, it changed how I approached my interactions with all my students, focusing more on encouraging, pushing, and telling students, repeatedly, that they can do it, and that I have faith in them. I find that when I expect great results from students (such as growth in their writing skills, participation in class, and engagement with our work), then they tend to rise to those expectations. I want students to see me as an advocate for them, someone who wants great success for them in the form of deep and lasting learning, and not someone who works at cross purposes to them.

Just as I expect great work from them, I expect it from myself as well. I work very hard to always improve anything I can about my teaching, whether it’s my time management, updating and improving an assignment or a rubric, or reading up on a new approach for the classroom. Not everyone can say that they are fascinated by all aspects of their job, but I certainly am. My interest in my job and improving my skills grows from my passion to help students improve their lives and grow past even their own expectations. I feel lucky to have the passion and interest in my job even after all these years, and I know I always can be better.

I don’t know that I will ever improve my time management, my assignments, or any other part of my teaching to the point of feeling that they are as good as they can be. I will always focus, though, on helping students see how capable they really are, regardless of what their internal monologue might tell them (Imposter Syndrome can do a lot of damage to a student’s progress, and I am always on the lookout for it).  The best part of this job is when a student has one of those deeply satisfying “AHA!” moments, when topics we are writing about, reading about, and talking about really click for them and they realize that the struggle to write clearly and well is worth it.

An important part of enacting my work to help students see their own worth is the process of modeling the behavior I want to see in them. My students are always teaching me as much as I teach them – there’s never been a semester to go by that doesn’t present me with the opportunity to say, “I don’t know the answer to that – let’s see what we can find out together.” I love when that happens, because it serves so many purposes: I get to model active inquiry and smart research approaches for the student (or, if I’m lucky and they asked a stumper question in class, I can model for all the students), plus I have the added (selfish) benefit of learning something new. So modeling is beneficial for both me and the students.

I even use modeling in teaching the writing process. I have an old essay that I wrote at roughly the same time I started teaching here in North Carolina, and it’s about my move from Texas to here. It’s a rough draft (Anne Lamott has a name for this type of draft), and I use this text to model what a good workshop can look like. I don’t tell them, though, that it’s my paper – I let them assume that it’s a student’s work. I do this because I don’t feel like it’s a good idea to use an old student paper to critique, for obvious reasons. I’m trying to build trust with them, not make them paranoid that something they wrote is going to wind up on the overhead years from now, being picked apart by me and later classes.

I pull up the text and I model for them what I call a “Gossipy Workshop” where I read a line or two and then react to it. I then turn to the class after I’ve read another line or two, or a paragraph, and ask what they think. More often than not, the students are brutally honest and actually give me some good feedback.

I end the exercise by telling them that it’s my essay, and it’s an incomplete first draft, written for this purpose. They can see, then, what good feedback looks like (both from me giving it as I read it aloud and from their peers, as they respond to it), but they also get to see that having someone critique your paper isn’t the terrifying thing that they might think it to be. This is a basic, non-technical approach that I bring to the classroom for all the classes I teach – it incorporates important concepts like providing feedback, reading a text aloud, looking at organizational and cohesive issues, etc. (It really is a rough paper!)

My process of modeling allows me to give students a look at other skills I hope they improve: a desire to see improvement in the draft, the ability to receive and respond to feedback without taking it personally, and the importance of reflection on the process. Students come away from our work understanding that workshopping a paper is nothing more than having and expressing an opinion about a text, and they don’t have to be teachers to give good feedback (which is a frequent roadblock for them as we begin to workshop).

In working with students closely on their writing, I have spoken with students who were on the verge of leaving school due to impending homelessness, or who were dealing with domestic violence situations, and I was able to lead them in the direction of others who could provide help and who could help them stay in school while also staying safe. I have had students approach me with their writing they do for fun, hoping for my feedback, and I have had students end the semester by giving me notes saying how much they’ve enjoyed my class, and how much I’ve inspired them or how they feel so much better about their writing. I treasure these interactions, and I feel so very lucky to have had them.

Another reason I believe I should be chosen as Adjunct Instructor of the Year is my extensive committee work on behalf of both students and faculty. I was lucky enough to be able to serve on a committee dealing with assessment of student progress in literature (which I have not yet been asked to teach here at Gaston College, but hope to someday), and I additionally served on the ENG 112 assessment committee. I always participate in the norming work that the faculty does at the start of the semester, even where it’s not required. I was a part of a recent book club addressing race issues in higher education, and while this wasn’t strictly committee work, I am very proud of it, and I gained quite a lot from it. I want students to have the best experience they can in college, and I want Gaston College to be as great as I believe it to be, so I am happy to work with full time faculty, other adjuncts, administrators, and anyone else who is in the position to help improve this college we all care about so much.

While I do hope that I’m chosen as the Adjunct Instructor of the Year, I have to say that nothing can beat how amazing it was to receive that note (above) from a Gaston student recently. Adjunct of the Year or not, I’m still going to aim for that sort of impact with my students every time I enter the classroom because every student deserves to be heard and deserves to have the opportunity to improve through education and hard work.