Nine Reasons Why I Love My Adjunct Status

Respectful students whose parents don’t whine are among the appealing aspects by Suzanne Tingley

As a school superintendent, I go by many names. During the course of the day I can be called the chief school administrator, the district spokesperson, the lead negotiator, the hearing officer, the final decision maker—and, of course, a host of other less flattering terms.

But when the school day is over, I close my office door and become … professor!

For several years I have taught graduate courses in education administration for the State University of New York at Oswego, less than an hour’s drive from my home near Lake Ontario in northern New York. While teaching as an adjunct is another responsibility in an already packed schedule, the rewards are well worth the additional time and effort.

Here are some of the reasons I like my adjunct status:

• No. 1: Respect.

Students in graduate courses in education administration tend to be older and more experienced. They don't wear baseball caps and they don't eat while I'm talking. They're polite. They keep their hands and feet to themselves.

Because graduate courses are offered primarily in the evening, most of the prospective administrators arrive in professional attire. No one wears a T-shirt promoting Hooters.

• No. 2: No Parents.

I don't have to meet my graduate students' parents. Not a single one has ever called me to protest a son's or daughter’s grade on a midterm. No graduate student's mother will stop me in the grocery store to complain about how her daughter was treated unfairly in class. Their parents will not tell me how they like me a lot better than the professor their child had last year. They will not ask me to see what I can do to get their child into a course taught by a more popular professor.

• No. 3: Eager Learners.

Students in graduate courses want to know what I want to teach. They don't have to be there; in fact, they are paying for my experience and knowledge. They don't roll their eyes when I start explaining the finer points of discipline. On the contrary, they want to hear more!

They have good study habits. They read the material I assign. As teachers themselves they expect a lot from their own students and are not surprised when I expect a lot from them. They don't whine.

• No. 4: Candor.

As an adjunct I can talk frankly about issues I've dealt with and not worry about whether the sound byte will have an impact on voters, district employees or my board. I can explain the budget process, but I don't have to defend it.

Even better, some of the worrisome issues I've had to deal with metamorphose to useful examples I can use to illustrate my points. Particularly annoying encounters can turn into anecdotes that with a little distance can be almost amusing. Take, for example, the parent who complained that my school district "discriminates against able-bodied persons" when her athlete son was ticketed for parking in a handicapped parking space in front of the gym. That story is almost funny when I relate it to my graduate students.

• No. 5: Teaching and Learning.

Adjuncts typically have no office hours, no committee meetings, no department responsibilities. There are no office politics and no worries about promotion. Tenure isn't an issue.

I am not expected to conduct lengthy, arduous and painstaking research and then publish the results in scholarly journals that are read mainly by graduate students. For one or two evenings a week, it's pure teaching and learning—the reason I went into education in the first place.

• No. 6: Personal Academic Growth.

It turns out that if I want to converse with my graduate students, I have to read the results of lengthy, arduous and painstaking research in those scholarly journals. Both the reading and the conversation enhance my own understanding of school administration as do my interactions with full-time college professors who are often more current regarding developments in the field. Keeping up takes time, but it helps me stay intellectually engaged and optimistic about improving education.

• No. 7: Perspective.

Teaching as an adjunct professor brings me into contact with graduate students who are teachers in districts other than my own. Sometimes listening to teachers talk about issues in their home districts can make me more appreciative of my own situation. Yes, the building project bids came in over budget, but at least the backhoe didn't hit the water main. No parent in my district is currently suing us because his child fell off the slide and a woodchip became embedded in his nose, requiring stitches. This should not be taken to mean that my district isn't dealing with its own issues; they're just not those issues.

Teachers in other districts also can give me ideas for things to try in my own district. Sometimes graduate students will reference a new teaching strategy used in their district, a particularly helpful workshop they've attended or a more effective way to handle a common problem. Teachers in other districts can be a gold mine of new ideas or different perspectives.

• No. 8: Showtime.

Collaborating with my colleagues from the academy can be fun. It's a little like a professional broadcaster teaming up with a Major League baseball player to call a game over the airwaves.

Recently I co-taught a course on school leadership with a highly respected veteran professor. She provided the play-by-play, and I provided the color commentary. She deftly guided students to an understanding of the most recent theories in school leadership, and I helped them see how theory applies to practice.

During one class she led the students through a lengthy discussion of the benefits of indirect, supportive leadership—the shared decision-making model. Students were enthusiastic about a democratic style that included everyone in the governing process. When I asked them how they would employ this management style in hiring employees, they were quick to describe how the principal would form a committee to interview the candidates and then come to consensus regarding the best candidate.

"Then how would you use this style to fire an employee?" I asked. In the silence that ensued no one suggested a committee to share that leadership responsibility.

My colleague segued into a discussion of situational leadership.

• No. 9: Influencing the Future.

Finally, and of course most importantly, teaching as an adjunct professor gives me the opportunity to influence positively the next generation of school leaders.

Studies claim that fewer and fewer teachers are interested in pursuing careers in administration, particularly the superintendency. Teachers cite lack of a significant pay differential, the longer work year, parental demands, requirements for certification and the hostile environment in which school leaders sometimes have to operate as reasons for their reluctance to pursue administration.

Whenever I have the opportunity to teach, I acknowledge the challenges, but my experience in the field lends credibility when I note the many rewards as well. Of course we talk about endless state mandates, legal issues, personnel problems and tight budgets. I remind students that besides knowledge, they need to bring to the job listening skills, patience, respect for themselves and others and a sense of humor. I tell them that every day is different and finding creative solutions to troublesome problems is gratifying. I tell them that good administration can make a difference in the lives of both children and adults in a school building and an entire community.

And because they are polite, they listen.

Suzanne Tingley is superintendent of Sackets Harbor Central School District, 215 S. Broad St., Sackets Harbor, NY 13685. E-mail: stingley@sackets-harbor-high.moric.org