Recently, I was at the College of Lake County. I was at the Southlake Campus not the main Grayslake campus. I was in the faculty prep room which is basically a room with about eight computer workstations for faculty to prepare for their classes. I was working next to a fellow adjunct who appeared to be in his forties with a scruffy beard and a balding head of hair that might have been combed... yesterday. His style of dress was non-descript not very fashionable casual bordering on the urban grundge. I am sure he is used to, and enjoys, not being noticed.
I noticed him.
I noticed him not for his dress but because what was on his computer screen. No, I was not looking over his shoulder at what he was working on. He actually got up and walked away. As he was moving away, the motion caught my attention. In glancing to note what was happening, I noticed that the computer screen was on the sign-in page for Oakton Community College. I figured he was teaching there as well. But as is my buttinski habit, I made a comment upon his return to the pc. It was something moronically clever like "hey, you are at the wrong school." He answered "oh yeah, I teach there as well." I told him that I also teach at two schools as well. He trumped me by saying that he teaches at three colleges. Not only does he teach at The College of lake County and Oakton Community College, but he also teaches at Harper College.
I said "wow, how many courses?" He said "nine." Nine? Nine course at one time. That is crazy. I asked "nine? really? wow." I asked him a few more questions just to get a sense of how this could possibly work. This fellow, whose name I never got, teaches philosophy. I wondered if this made it more possible to teach nine courses at once or harder. He certainly has to lecture on the subject so that is probably the same. I imagine he has to read a lot of essays and to me that would be harder than grading a math exam.
I never got the fellows name. It does not matter. If I did then I would have to have him read this before I post it. But, I should give him a name. I am already tired of calling him "this fellow." As he is a philosophy professor, lets call him Rene for Rene Decartes who was both philosopher and mathematician and thus is a name that appeals to me.
Rene told me he lived in Milwaukee. That blew my mind even more. Not only is the man teaching the equivalent of three full loads he is driving at least 2-3 hours a day depending on traffic and which school he is teaching at. It is 71 miles from Milwaukee to Harper College. Finally to top it all off he told me he has three children. The oldest is ten and the youngest is two. How does he manage all of this?
Three, maybe four, classes is considered a full time teaching load. It truly is when you factor in preparation, office hours, and grading. Three or four classes will keep one quite busy. I have taught as many as four and it made for pretty full days and weeks that went by at a brisk pace. If one is organized and on top of things, as I am certain Rene is and I aspire to, a heavy teaching load can be become routine. If one has taught the courses before, as I am sure Rene has, the syllabus and the lectures are set. But even with that, I am always tweaking the course to improve the way I get the lesson across to the students more effectively.
Philosophy? Really? In my third year of teaching, I have yet to meet one student who uttered the words "in my philosophy class." I have yet to meet anyone other than Rene that actually teaches philosophy. I just checked the CLC website and course catalog (I really love the internet) and found there are five full time faculty teaching philosophy. Not only this, there are nine course offered as of the 2012 Summer Term. Of course, this makes sense. It just was not on my radar screen.
In getting back to Rene, I wondered how much he made. If he is a pure adjunct, i.e. part-time with no benefits which is my suspicion, let's assume he is getting paid $2,100 per course as Philosophy courses seem to be 3 credit hours each. That means Rene was paid $18,900 for this past semester that began in January and is just ending now. Annualized, assuming a he teaches two semesters at this pace and a paltry four courses in the summer, Rene could be pulling in a whopping $46,200 a year. Believe me; he is earning every dollar of that. Entry level full time faculty at these same colleges are probably earning somewhere in the low $50,000s with just a masters degree and maybe $60,000 with a PhD.
I am way impressed with the work lifestyle Rene has created for himself.
He is doing what he has to do to earn a living or his share of the living for his family. This is kind of the modern era. The unemployment statistics are bandied about quite a bit especially as I write this. The April 2012 numbers were just released and the press is rife with opinions as to whether the recovery has stalled again or if this is just another blip whatever that means. What it means to me is that the economy has changed and this level of unemployment is the new normal. People like Rene are just doing what they have to do to get by. He is working hard, driving all over Chicagoland, and making a living. That he does not get benefits or he has almost no job security is just the norm for a growing number of people. Yet, he and many others do what they have to to do. They are determined to survive and thrive. This is a part of the American Spirit that I love and admire. It is the part of the spirit that is encouraging and inspiring.
What then is relative part of this? Simple. I thought I was organized and working hard. Then I met Rene. I guess I am neither as efficient or hard working that I thought. Also, being busy and working hard is independent of how much money one makes. I have to believe Rene puts in the same hours as your average CEO definitely without the pay and perks and possibly without the stress.
There is always someone doing more and doing better. There is always someone doing not as well and in more need of assistance. We have to keep the notion where we are, what we are doing, and how we are doing in perspective. It is too easy to get too wrapped up and obsessed with our own comings and goings. We need to see what others are doing. It is just a good and sobering thing to do.
I hope to run into Rene again. I have a lot more questions for him.