Do the “Hard Things”

I recently finished reading (okay, listening to) Angela Duckworth’s Grit. I teach her TedTalk nearly every semester, and I enjoy her perspective given in the video. Based on this, I decided to listen to her book, and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. I typically get bored of “self help” books pretty quickly, but I found that her balance of research and anecdotal evidence kept my brain engaged. Particularly, I was struck by how much of her advice applies to teaching students how to write academically.

As a writing professor, I find that most students do not like writing because they perceive that they aren’t good at it. I usually quell these worries by saying frequently that writing is hard for everyone, but they can learn tools and techniques through practice that will make writing feel easier. But writing, by nature, is difficult. As Duckworth acknowledges at the end of her book, Ta-Nehisi Coates accurately described writers as people who live in failure. Writers have to internalize sometimes scary and harsh feedback about our writing in order to improve. Writers have to be in the drudges of what we do “wrong” so that we can improve. There is no other way to improve as a writer. This sense of difficulty is compounded in writing because there is no such thing as a “perfect” draft, especially a first draft.

For students who already feel self-conscious about their writing, turning in a first draft is intimidating because they will have their mistakes and knowledge gaps brought to light. There is no hiding what goes “wrong” in a rough draft.

So how do we, as writing instructors, increase students’ grittiness in the writing process? How do we convey that the writing process is difficult but can be worked through?

One method that I have used is that I am open with my students about how writing is difficult for me. I tell them that I dislike writing introductions and my conclusions often feel repetitive and sometimes insulting to the reader. I tell them that I get writer’s block if I try to write my essays linearly and that I can reduce my instances of writer’s block if I write my introduction last. By having transparent conversations about writing, my students can see that even someone who is considered an expert in writing still struggles in the same areas where they struggle. They are encouraged when I tell them that I have learned to work through the difficulty with years of practice, not by gaining some ~magical talent~ or skill. I don’t know much more about writing than they do, but I just practice frequently and have practiced for a much longer span of time. They learn that they, too, can become expert writers, but they have to practice.

Another method that I’ve been trying out recently is that I show them examples of my own writing process. When I was in college, I never got to see my own professors’ writing (unless I looked them up on JSTOR). Particularly, I never saw how they worked through the writing process that they were telling me is so important to writing a successful academic essay. How can my students believe that the process is important if they don’t see it modeled? So I started providing for them on Canvas one of my essays at every stage of the writing process. I give them my brainstorming, research notes, outline, rough draft, and final draft. I show them how much work goes into a polished piece of academic writing so that they can be encouraged to put in the hard work as well.

I strongly believe that increasing students’ grittiness during the writing process is the key to producing successful college writers. I’m going to keep brainstorming and experimenting with ways to increase students’ grit, but I would love to hear your suggestions! Did a writing professor give you some advice or skill that helped you increase your grit as a writer? Do you have any ideas or tried-and-true methods to increase students’ grit?

Side Hustle Sunday 2/10

At the end of the week, I tally up how much I made from my side hustles and I tell you where my money is headed. Here are the stats for the week ending on Feb 10!

Tutoring: $290 (classroom instruction and appointments)

Expenses: $7 (breakfast Saturday) $10 (lunch in between tutoring appointments Sunday) $5 (gas)

Held for taxes: $87

Total profit: $181

This money will be going to my Pittsburgh fund, and this should be the last week that I need to allocate money towards this fund!

What Does It Mean to Adjunct?

My relationship with my job is conflicted. I absolutely love what I do, but sometimes the conditions of employment make it difficult to be excited about going to work.

I’m an adjunct instructor, and I have been for 4 years. While adjuncting, I have had the opportunity to teach at 5 different colleges. Theoretically, an adjunct is supposed to be an expert working professional in the field who teaches on the side and passes on real-world knowledge of the subject. In practice, though, an adjunct is more like a freelancer. We are hired to meet the enrollment needs of the college as needed. Adjuncts are employed on a tentative contractual basis, meaning that our work schedules can change or get canceled completely up until the course’s census date (usually a few weeks into the semester). If you’re curious about the job or if you’re considering adjuncting, this post will give my honest insight about adjuncting for your consideration. The adjunct experience can vary widely depending on the subject, your location, and your attitude/work ethic.

Complications with Adjuncting:

The commute. Adjuncts are jokingly called “Freeway Fliers” because of how much time we spend driving from campus to campus. During a busy semester, it is not uncommon for me to spend 6 hours per day in my car commuting between campuses. This may be due to my location, as I have to travel on some of the busiest freeways in the country (thanks, Los Angeles traffic!). I frequently drive over 5,000 miles per semester, and this is done over a spread of 4 days per week for 16 weeks. That averages out to about 78 miles driven per day. I also often eat my breakfast, lunch, and dinner in my car while I drive to my next class, only to rush to find parking once I arrive and then sprint to my class to make it on time. It is a stressful and draining existence. I also want to acknowledge that the amount of time that I spend in my car drastically increases my chances of getting in an accident. In fact, I was in a 4-car pile up on the 405 in March of 2017. My car was totaled, and my back was injured which makes it difficult to teach on some days.

RIP Prius. The driver door wouldn’t open!

Unpaid Labor. From what I understand, service and office hours are worked into full-time faculty members’ contracts. As an adjunct, I only get paid for 1 office hour/prep hour per week per class, which is obviously not enough for a composition class of 30-ish students. I am passive-aggressively encouraged to participate in service projects (such as working on committees) and professional development activities (such as workshops and seminars). I am not required to do this work, but any full-time application will ask applicants to list the service and professional development projects that he/she has participated in. The message is clear: if you want a full-time position, you have to do unpaid labor. And frequently, too, to show that you are really a “committed” instructor.

I stay sane by staying organized. Look at all that unpaid labor!

No office. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but I have never had an office on any campus where I teach. I have access to shared office spaces, but it is ineffective to try to work through a difficult essay with a student while listening to other instructors try to do the same. I also don’t have a place to keep my materials which means that my car, kitchen table, and spare bedroom are often overtaken with books, essays, and worksheets.

No benefits. I get a meager pension that I am required to pay in to through CalSTRS. That’s it. No health insurance, dental or vision insurance, PTO, or any of the other perks that would be associated with full-time employment in any field.

No job security or seniority. As I mentioned above, we are hired on a tentative contractual basis. This means that we maybe have employment for 16 weeks, but our employment after that is not guaranteed. In fact, we can be “bumped” from a class at any time if a full-time instructor needs the units to make load. Our classes are the first to be canceled if enrollment is low (which it is; enrollment is down about 20% across the board). As of the posting on this, there isn’t any policy on assigning classes based on seniority. I also don’t currently have rehire rights; I could just not be offered a contract with no reason given.

Benefits of Adjuncting:

Little office politics. I don’t have to care about most of the politics that happen in any academic department. I can show up, teach, and leave. I don’t have to worry about keeping So-And-So happy because I share an office with them or because they are in charge of the funding for a project that I’m working on.

Travel opportunities. I only have to teach summer and winter sessions if I want the money. Sometimes I teach, and sometimes I travel during the breaks. I appreciate having the opportunity to travel internationally for extended periods of time if I want to.

Trip to Versailles during winter break!

Nontraditional scheduling. I don’t have to work Fridays, evenings, early mornings, Tuesdays, or whatever if I don’t want to. Before each semester, I tell the colleges what days I want to work, and they give me classes that fit within those times. It can be tricky to balance the schedules with commuting and other responsibilities, but I am not obligated to work normal 9-5 hours if I don’t want to. Additionally, I can work as much or as little as I would like. Last semester, I wanted to work a lot, so I accepted a schedule with 7 classes. This semester, I wanted to work less, so I only accepted 3 classes. Also, I love running errands on Friday mornings while everyone else is at work. No lines in the grocery store!

The pay. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should put this one as a benefit or a drawback, but I decided to put it as a benefit. My hourly rate is pretty high, reaching up to $95/lecture hour (my wages are public information, so don’t worry about this being “sensitive” information. You can Google me and see what I make). While this isn’t equal to what a full-time faculty member gets paid, I think it’s not bad considering my age, education, and responsibilities. This wage allows me to pay my bills and live comfortably IF (and this is a big “if”) I work enough hours. This can get tricky, though, because I can only work part-time at each campus.

Teaching. I absolutely LOVE my job. I am grateful that I get to wake up and go do what I love and help incredible people reach their dreams.

Disclaimer: Adjuncting takes a certain level of privilege. It is more difficult for certain demographics to adjunct as a legitimate job for a number of reasons. I am able to make it work because I am able-bodied, have no dependents, and do not have systemic racism working against me. Some people may have an easier time than me if they don’t have debt or can financially rely on a partner (even having health insurance through a partner is a HUGE burden lifted). I am also young (started adjuncting at 23), so I have a lot of energy and years to work without contributing fully to retirement. I am able to split living costs with my boyfriend which helps relieve some stress. He also helps me with errands and household chores during the semester: a relief that single people or people with a partner with disabilities will not have. Also, I do not plan on having children, so there is no “rush” that some women may feel to secure a stable job for maternity leave and quality healthcare in order to start a family. I realize that my privilege allows me to adjunct, and this post would not be complete without me acknowledging that.

Do you have any questions for me about adjuncting? Have you ever been an adjunct or freelancer before? Let me know in the comments!

Job Hunt Update by the Numbers (with good news!)

Classroom where I teach the SAT on the weekends

Ever since I heard that I will only be teaching 2 classes this spring (equaling less than $1k/month of take-home pay), I have been applying to jobs like my life depends on it. Because it does. And so far, my efforts have paid off: I have been hired by multiple companies in such a short period of time. Here’s a break down of my week (or so) of intense job hunting:

Number of applications submitted for part-time work: 137

Number of applications submitted for full-time, tenure-track professor positions: 14

Number of job interviews offered: 12

Number of job interviews taken: 5

Number of job offers: 4

Number of jobs accepted: 3 (one as a server, one tutoring online, one tutoring in-person)

Hours spent scouring Craigslist, Indeed, and Linkedin: roughly one billion

Hours per week that I will need to work at my new jobs to pay my bills: 14

I think it’s safe to say that I can finally stop panicking. Because I’m teaching this winter, I won’t need the money from these jobs until April, which will give me enough time to get trained and comfortable, balance my schedule, and start earning tips in the serving position (servers in training don’t get tips usually). Some people say that I shouldn’t have been stressed about this situation because “everything always works out.” I say that is absolutely BS. Things don’t work themselves out; I make sure that they work out by working my butt off.

Side Hustle Sunday 2/3

At the end of the week, I tally up how much I made from my side hustles and I tell you where my money is headed. Here are the stats for the week ending on Feb 3!

Tutoring: $452 (classroom instruction, individual appointments, essay scoring)

Held for Taxes: $150

Expenses: $10 (breakfast Saturday) $15 (lunch in between tutoring appointments) $5 (gas)

Total: $272

This week’s money will go towards my Pittsburgh travel fund again. That fund should be fully funded by next week! How much did you make from your side hustles this week?

Side Hustle Sunday Report: Jan 27

At the end of the week, I tally up how much I made from my side hustles and I tell you where my money is headed. Here are the stats for the week ending on Jan 27!

Poshmark: $14

Tutoring: $135

Deducted for taxes: $50

Other expenses: $5 (gas); $9 (lunch between tutoring appointments)

Total: $85

My side hustle money this week will be going towards my sinking fund for my Pittsburgh trip in March. Did you make any money at your side hustles this week? Let me know in the comments!

I’m Taking an 80% Pay Cut!

It finally happened to me. I have heard my friends and colleagues deal with this issue, and it seems as though it is my turn. I am taking a not-at-all-optional 80% pay cut.

Daily lab schedule from last semester

The Situation

As an adjunct, I have control over my schedule in the sense that I can tell each college when I’m available to teach. I don’t control what classes or the amount of classes that I actually teach. The number that I teach is determined by enrollment (seemingly random; some classes fill up more easily than others), and I can still get bumped from a class if a full time professor’s class is canceled due to low enrollment. I cannot, by any means, control these factors.

Last semester, I was terrified by the amount of classes that were being canceled, so I overloaded my schedule, betting that some would get taken from me for one reason or another. They didn’t. I taught 7 classes which was 30 units. For reference, the average full time professor teaches around 4 classes per semester.

This semester, I decided not to overload my schedule because I was sick, stressed, tired, and miserable for the last five months and promised myself that I WOULD NOT work that much again. With the way that the scheduling worked out initially, I was given 3 classes, 14 units. Manageable, and just enough to pay all of my bills. The plan was to work my side hustles to fund my sinking funds and beef up my savings a bit. My debt snowball will be on hold until the fall.

Well, one of my classes for spring was canceled, leaving me with 2 classes and 9 units, which, mathematically, comes to over 80% of a cut in pay from my take-home pay that I was lucky to receive last semester. I have no idea how I’m going to pay my bills in the coming months. I’m anticipating having less than a 4-figure take home pay in this coming semester. I haven’t made this small of an income since I was a high school student. #teamtinyshovel

Post It math to figure out side hustle pay

The Plan

I took part of yesterday to panic, and then I got right down to formulating a plan. I need to somehow make $1700 in take home pay extra each month to pay for my bills. It comes down to about 20-30 hours of work per week, depending on the rate I can get paid.

Right now, I’m applying to as many tutoring and serving jobs as I can find. I figured that these are the only industries where its normal to make $20+ per hour consistently while working part-time. I have interviews with some tutoring companies online today and tomorrow, and then I’ll be hitting the pavement to pass out my resume to different eateries around town. While this situation absolutely sucks, I am grateful for a few aspects of my situation:

My education. I am grateful that with my Master’s degree in English, I am highly qualified for a number of positions in a number of industries.

My work experience. I worked through college and grad school as a server, and I’m thankful that I learned serving skills because waiting tables will always be a viable back up plan. I live in a tourist-ish town with a vibrant food industry, so there will never be a shortage of a need for servers. Additionally, I have years of experience in tutoring and teaching, so I’m qualified to pick up an extra teaching gig without much hesitancy.

Lack of credit card debt. This month, I paid off all of my credit card debt! I am thankful that I worked hard to pay off this debt because if I were facing this situation with credit card debt, I would need to work more to pay for those minimum payments. My budget is smaller than it was even a few weeks ago.

I’m approaching this situation with as much calmness as I can (honestly, I’m freaking out) given the high stress of this situation. I do have some savings to fall back on if needed, but I refuse to touch that emergency fund unless I have exhausted every possible solution to this problem.

Have you ever had a drastic decrease in income? How did you tackle the situation? Do you have any recommendations for legit side hustles? I’m considering working for Postmates as a driver, so if you have experience with driving for Postmates, let me know what you think!