A Contingent Future

For many graduate students the decision to pursue an advanced degree comes organically from our interest in our field. The undergraduate course material excited us or we took an active interest in learning outside the classroom. This manifests itself in taking research internships or working directly with professors during the academic year. Eventually someone suggests that we should consider applying to graduate schools, and at the time that always sounds exciting. However, rarely is there talk of the non-academic aspects of graduate studies which often aren’t confronted until you’ve matriculated into the next academic echelon.

Now that we find ourselves together at Temple University, the quirks of teaching, grading, leading labs or running recitations fall on us daily. These positions of power may end up being a burden when taken together with other aspects of our lives. Living the dual life of student and instructor makes me very aware of my shortcomings as a student and as an instructor. Being asked to act as a source on a subject for which you’ve only begun your advanced research can lead to moments of uncertainty in terms of how well you understand your own field–let alone concerns over your natural teaching style because most graduate students are new to the front of the classroom.

Thankfully the Teaching and Learning Center runs a wonderful orientation seminar to help new teaching assistants, adjunct professors, and full professors get acclimated to teaching in the general sense and teaching at Temple. They strive to show that even if the material varies the experiences are common amongst all instructors of record. The level of involvement from each department, and even from each professor, associated with your TA appointment will vary greatly, which often leads graduate students to question just how much to care about their assigned duties.

Managing your time for your own classes and research combined with maintaining your TA/RA duties will create serious conflicts of interest. Your students have your email address and will be sure to let you know when things in your course go awry. The SFFs will serve as a serious reminder to you and your department of your ‘qualities’ as a teacher through the eyes of your students. All the while you remind yourself you did not attend graduate school to teach, but to learn!

Learning more in your field is your main focus, but learning to be a proficient teacher and mentor is also required of all graduate students. Our advanced degrees make us natural leaders in our careers so the development of skills associated with teaching, mentoring, and leadership will be assumed when we leave Temple. Your success in the classroom will translate to your success at conferences and interviews. TUGSA wants to ensure your success by making the most of your opportunity as a TA so that you feel proud and comfortable listing it on your CV.

The tone TUGSA sets with TAs builds the foundation of how Temple treats all other teaching faculty. In the February 22, 2015 Philadelphia Inquirer, a Temple adjunct professor wrote in to alert the Inquirer’s readership to the present status of the adjunct negotiations with the university. That writer could be you in a matter of years or months, given the updated collective bargaining agreement Temple worked out with TUGSA.

It is often cited that Temple employee 1100 adjuncts each year. If each teaches at the average student  to teacher ratio of 14.1:1, this means adjuncts educate 15,510 students a year (compared to total undergraduate enrollment of 24,500 students). Teaching only one class a year the adjunct staff educates over half the undergrads at Temple. Given that most teach both semesters and some teach more than one class, they educate the majority of Temple undergrads. They are a critical part of Temple and at the  moment they are pushing for change.

It is often cited that Temple employs 1,100 adjunct instructors each year. If each adjunct teaches at the average student-to-teacher ratio of 14.1:1, this means adjuncts educate 15,510 students a year (compared to total undergraduate enrollment of 24,500 students). Teaching only one class a year, the adjunct staff educates over half the undergrads at Temple. Given that most adjunct teach both semesters and some teach more than one class, they educate the majority of Temple undergrads. They are a critical part of Temple, and at the moment they are pushing for change.

What is ahead of us is an uncertain but serious issue. How the adjunct organization will impact you and your colleagues depends on actions you take in the coming year.  Their fight for equitable treatment and wages will be your fight if you are offered an adjunct position once you clear candidacy. Our own union tackled this issue back in 2002 when it formed because of the poor treatment of graduate students. This is why TAs and RAs now make far more money than adjuncts in addition to our healthcare benefits.

We work with adjuncts. We are taught by adjuncts. And we could one day become an adjunct. Shouldn’t we stand up for them so they can stand up for us?

Christian Ward
TUGSA Co-President
College of Engineering

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