By Jonathan Lopes
Becoming a professor was a wish list item versus a bucket list item. I see bucket list more as things you’ll eventually attempt, if not complete. Whereas wish list are just that — wishes because they aren’t realistic.
Serving as an adjunct professor almost didn’t happen twice. I was offered a spot without an application or interview. I know, that is rare. I was driving home one night after an MA class during my last semester before graduation and an old professor/mentor called me. She mentioned a slot was open and she was in real need to fill asap. She thought of me because of my prior affiliation with the school as well as resume. I just kept saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I was stunned and inarticulate, not a great look for an aspiring professor. She chuckled though and mentioned her details about the class and hiring paperwork. I told her I was 6 weeks away from graduating with my MA and actually didn’t finish yet. She then stated I would be ineligible, but she would keep me in consideration for the following academic year. I continued driving home reflecting on what should’ve been a typical day, yet I was inches from the proverbial brass ring.
Fast forward 6 months and she invited me as well as others to an adjunct open house for interested candidates. There was no need, but I brought in my resume, references and wore a Justin Timberlake like inspired suit and tie. I wanted this and was willing to make whatever impression necessary. She and two of her colleagues presented for 70 minutes on the class, detailed the application and interview process as well as which sections were even open to begin with. I listened, took notes, asked a few questions and applied that day. I had an interview, which wasn’t guaranteed, two weeks later. I poured my heart out when answering certain questions since I wasn’t the traditional candidate. I had no direct teaching experience and knew the interviewer. She informally offered me a position before the call ended and even mentioned something along the lines of, “I already had made my mind up about hiring you and wanted to do this to see if you’d prove me right.” The official offer was given via email two weeks later.
Technically, when an adjunct professor hired, it only sticks if the class section fills up with a certain number of students. Otherwise, it isn’t cost effective for the school to run the course. A few classes were in danger of being cut due to poor enrollment. Mine was specifically on the line because it was a Thursday 7 a.m. class. One week before the deadline, after months of worry and many texts and emails to supervisors on my potential fate, my class was confirmed.
Teaching at a school I once attended is surreal. It is the truly clichéd experience of coming full circle. As someone with a never-ending baby face, most think I should be sitting next to them as opposed to standing in front facilitating discussions. Quality educators of all levels, K-12 and college, make it look easy and this possibly causes a disservice. “Oh, it doesn’t look hard. I could do that.” People say versions of that statement a lot. Most people can’t public speak. Try doing it for 90 minutes on a topic you are knowledgeable and confident in while using various mediums to engage others. It is tricky. I am still learning. Whether it is case studies, videos, textbooks, or even the seating arrangements, many factors are in play for a successful weekly class. By the way, we have homework too. I am grading yours and trying to prepare to make sure the next class doesn’t suck. Yeah, I said it.
This is my first attempt at teaching and there will be growing pains. I enjoy the process. Students hold so much potential, yet many are either lazy and/or simply unaware of how to become polished.
Jonathan Lopes is a first-generation US citizen and college graduate with AA, BA, and MA degrees. He has worked at Raritan Valley Community College and Lafayette College, where he is now an adjunct instructor. Do you have a question for our adjunct-in-residence? Write firstname.lastname@example.org.