I’ve been an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University for 10 years this December. Looking back, I had no idea how many lives I would be touching in positive ways when I walked into my first classroom and wrote my name on the chalkboard. (For the record, I think I’ve used a chalkboard once in the past five years.)
Being a teacher isn’t easy. In this era of whirlwind technological developments, every week adds another handful of things to the stack of information to share with your students so they can be as well-educated as possible when they leave your classroom. Of course, just because something new has come along, that doesn’t necessarily mean something older can now be ignored. Sure, some stuff can drop off, but it’s rare to find things that don’t retain some relevancy in a lesson plan due to historic impact or context.
The pay isn’t great for adjunct instructors, but then, school teachers in general are not at the top of the pay scale in most cities. There are plenty of issues to deal with when it comes to keeping up with lesson plans, student homework assignments, grading, testing, attendance, excuses, requests for extra help and basic politics that occur in any job. So, one might wonder, what keeps teachers coming back into that classroom day after day, week after week? Why do we teach?
It’s about the students. It’s about seeing those lightbulbs go off over their heads when they figure something out. It’s about watching them grow and mature, finding the courage to finally speak up during a class discussion to offer an answer to a teacher’s question or an opposing viewpoint for other students to consider.
At the college level I have the joy of watching young adults move from student to intern, from entry-level worker to experienced employee. I have kept up with a number of students over the years and am thrilled to see them succeed and prosper. I always like to think I have played some role in their achievements. Maybe those current events quizzes that I forced on them every week to a never-ending stream of groans and whines actually made a difference! Maybe being harsh on them with my red pen — “bleeding all over their work,” as one student once told me — helped them become better writers and editors. Or maybe just being a sounding board by responding to their requests for advice on classes, classwork, internship options and networking opportunities helped make that one big choice that led them down the right path.
I received an e-mail yesterday from a student who recently graduated. She started out with, “Just wanted to let you know that I’ve landed my dream job.” And she ended with, “I wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years. I wouldn’t have been prepared for an opportunity like this without your help, advice and wisdom!”
Thank you Michelle — this is why we teach.