Ad Junct

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Over the course of six years, I went to three separate colleges. I learned the ins and outs of academic systems, loading myself with credits while working on the side to support myself financially. I learned how to stack up courses so that I could get ahead in some classes while staying right on track with others, how to balance in-person and online, and how to navigate my energies toward certain classes with 100% energy while giving only 40% to others, whatever it took to get an A. In addition, I learned how to make sure I was invested in my assignments, planning out ways to keep myself invested. I learned that I was a great paper writer, and excellent at oral interviews, but terrible at memorization and test-taking.

I loved college. I loved being in the academic arena, with new energy always. I joined choirs, formed improv troops, sang in A Cappella groups, and starred in school plays. During the course of my six-year education, which culminated in a Masters degree in Social Work, or MSW, I had dozens of teachers. Now, from the vantage point of 15 years later, I can only name maybe 6 of those teachers by name, the ones that had the most profound impact on me. Of the others, many were ineffective, boring, disconnected, or simply not memorable.

When I started teaching, back in 2009, I wanted to be a teacher who was memorable.

I’ve always had a flair for teaching. (My mom has always told me that my three greatest talents are in “writing, teaching, and helping”). Most of my experience teaching was in Sunday School (or Gospel Doctrine) in Mormon wards throughout my adult life. I had the ability to take dense material from the Old Testament (like Jonah and Ninevah), difficult-to-understand topics (like “the Gifts of the Spirit”), or complex modern revelations (like eternal marriage and polygamy) and disseminate them for a room full of peers in a way that was both enlightening and entertaining. I liked to push people’s buttons, make them uncomfortable, and then leave them with a strong dose of spiritual enlightenment. I wanted them to leave the room feeling powerful. I wanted them to be talking about the lesson for the whole week afterwards.

Teaching Sunday School required a tremendous amount of preparation (reading and becoming familiar with the content and its adjacent topics), organization (understanding how this content fit into the wider spectrum of the overall curriculum), time management (knowing how to effectively get selected information across in an allotted time perfectly, not under- or over-planning), enthusiasm (if I was in love the topic, the room would be also), and group facilitation (trying to keep a large room full of very different people with very different expectations engaged, getting people to participate but not too much, answering unexpected questions, and keeping the content moving forward). I had to understand the room I was in and the role I was there to play, and I had to be ready for a myriad of possible distractions. Preparing for Sunday School lessons took me hours, and I loved it. More than that, I was good at it. It brought me joy and fulfillment.

So, after a few years of working full time at my forty-hour per week job (and in addition to my wife, son, home, and busy church calling), I decided I wanted to teach. I approached the local satellite university, a branch of Boise State University for students living in northern Idaho, and I was thrilled when they offered me an ad junket faculty position. Though I only had a Masters degree, they had a current opening, and brought me on board, offering me approximately $1000 per college credit for a 3 credit course. I enthusiastically accepted.

I quickly realized that that was not a lot of money. For $3000, I would have to read an entire text book and create a syllabus for an assigned curriculum. I would then spend 45 hours over the course of 15 weeks teaching it (one college credit means 15 hours of in class instruction, so for this class there would be 15 separate 3-hour classes). I would have to prepare each lecture, give assignments, and then grade the assignments of 27 individual non-traditional social work students. For my first class, they would each turn in 7 individual papers, and a longer essay final, making a total of 216 papers I would be grading. After it was all said and done, I was basically being paid half of minimum wage.

Navigating the strong personalities in the classroom quickly became the most difficult part of the job. Social work classes are dominated by people who have had terrible things happen to them and now want to figure themselves out. The classes were made up of 60 to 80 per cent women, and many of the students had a very strong sense of entitlement. (This is worthy of a different blog post, but here is an example of a typical interchange. Teacher: “Your papers are due tomorrow, don’t forget.” Student: “Can I please have a two week extension? You have no idea what I’m going through in my personal life!”)

It wasn’t until the end of that first semester that I started to understand what being an ad junct faculty member actually meant. The university had a certain amount of dollars to spend on a particular curriculum. They could only hire so many faculty, and they could only assign so many classes to each faculty member. But they still had to teach a minimum number of classes. So it was much cheaper and easier to hire outside resources to offer classes not covered by faculty. (One definition of the word ‘ad junct’ is, literally, “something joined or added to another thing but not essentially a part of it.”) I was not a part of the university or the program, but I was putting in dozens of hours per month to teach a course for the university. In short, I was not likely to ever hear from the dean or faculty unless a student complained.

Despite the drawbacks, teaching both exhilarated and exhausted me. I got to meet so many amazing students (and of course, several others I didn’t care for much), and I felt honored to be sharing my talents and experiences with them. I taught Diagnostics, and Introduction to Social Work, and Human Behavior in the Social Environment, and Ethics. I formed long-term relationships with many, and genuinely enjoyed my experiences. And the reviews I received were incredible, overwhelmingly positive, with some students calling me the best teacher they had ever had, and others saying I’d changed the course of their education for the better. In short, I loved it.

And then I came out of the closet and moved to Utah. And my teaching career (well, my ad junct teaching career), changed just like everything else.

(To be continued… in Ad Junct Part 2!)

Aging Rock Star

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The line to the bathroom is out of control. It was only a four mile drive to the local amphitheater, where my best friend Cole had scored free tickets to the Def Leppard concert, and, always one for a spontaneous adventure, of course I had said yes. I had significantly underestimated the traffic, however, so instead of taking ten minutes to arrive, it had taken over an hour, then another twenty minute walk from the parking lot to the venue. I am feeling like a ten year old child who should have used the facilities before the family road trip. My eyeballs are beginning to swim as the line moved forward one person at a time.

Finally I am able to stand in the restroom itself, though there are still six men in front of me. There must be 20 separate stalls in the room and I’m beginning to dance while I wait for my turn. Suddenly I feel an elbow in my back.

“Excuse me! You all don’t mind if I sneak in do you?”

I turn to see a woman of about 20 rushing into the men’s room. She is easily six inches shorter than me, her black hair cut in a bob. She has red lipstick, blue eye shadow, and glitter that sparkles on her cheeks. She’s in a black half shirt that exposes her slim stomach and a thigh-length skirt with tennis shoes.

“The girl’s line is just so long! So, I mean, eff it! I don’t care if I use the boys, and you guys don’t mind since I’m hot! Thanks!” She pushes her way into the stall that just opened up and keeps talking from behind the closed door. “You all are so nice, thank you, I’ll be quick!”

Several minutes later, finally free of the oppressive control of my bladder, I rejoin Cole outside and we make our way through the crowd to a hilltop, where there is open seating. There is a haze of smoke floating over the entire crowd, an obnoxious combination of tarmac, tobacco, and marijuana; it sticks to the insides of my eyelids, the roof of my mouth, and inside my ears and I realize I’m in a literal fog. It doesn’t take long for my head to start aching.

My attention is pulled in every direction by the people. Aged men in tie dye, sleeveless shirts, tight tank tops, and jeans with holes cut through the knees by a pair of scissors. Long jagged Mick Jagger and Axl Rose wigs in blonde, brown, rainbow, and red over thick sunglasses, even though it is night. Women in tight jeans or skirts, frilly tops that expose cleavage and navels and shoulders, crimped hair. Plastic cups of beer in every hand, plates heaping with nachos or fries, joints or cigarettes in many hands. A sea of lights shines across the hilltop as every third person clicks messages on their phones instead of watching the live music happening right in front of them. There is nothing quite so intolerable as being the sober one in a crowd full of drunk people, especially on a Monday night.

Cole and I find a spot to lay out the blanket and for the next two hours we listen to the classic songs of the aging rock stars. The crowd around us dances, flips their hair back and forth, grinds their pelvises together. The men’s eyes wander while the women dance in place like the characters from Peanuts, as if Schroeder was up their rocking out instead of a classic band.

Def Leppard sounds fantastic given their age. First formed in 1977 in the United Kingdom, the band had multiple chart toppers in the 1980s and early 1990s. Their lyrics and guitar riffs bring back nostalgic memories from my childhood.

Love bites, love bleeds, it’s bringing me to my knees.

Blue jean, baby queen. Prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.

Hey kids, rock’n’roll, rock on, lose control.

And the seminal Pour some sugar on me!… I’m hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet.

Despite the haze in my brain, I’m having a genuinely good time. After a while, I let myself sink back on the blanket and think about the band for a few minutes. These men must be in their late fifties at least, and more likely in their late sixties. They hit their hey-day literally decades ago, before the Internet, before cell phones, before Desert Storm even. Now here there are performing the same ballads for crowds of enthusiasts, ticket sales for this one venue likely well above 75,000 dollars total. I picture the lead singer kissing his wife goodbye, stopping off to visit his grown children and his teenage grandchildren, picking up his arthritis medicine, then heading to the airport to board a flight for the United States, where he has a pending concert in Utah of all places. He turns down the in-flight meal because his doctor has told him to watch his cholesterol. He naps against the window, snoring loudly. Upon arrival, he stretches, feeling his bones crack and pop and he thinks about how he isn’t what he used to be. At show time, he uses elastic bands to pull back the hard lines on his face, covers his face in foundation, dons an 80s rock wig and a set of clothing just like what he wore back on the Pyromaniatour back in 1985. He does some vocal warm-ups and worries he won’t be able to hit those high notes like he used to. He stretches a bit, warms up with the band, pumps himself up, then performs for a packed crowd who sings along to every word he has sang ten thousand times before, all while he gyrates his hips in ways that will leave him aching for days. After the show, he winds down with a glass of Ovaltine, calls his wife overseas, and heads back to the hotel where he hopes his aching knee will let him rest.

Cole and I leave a bit before the encore, and as we fight the line of cars out of the parking lot, I think about the status of American celebrity, where we will still pay money to see Chubby Checker twist, Cyndi Lauper just have fun, and Madonna pretend to be a virgin. And then I think how, even though Def Leppard makes it sound sexy, if I were really hot and sticky sweet from my head down to my feet, I would really just want a shower, and I realize that maybe I’m the one getting too old for this even if the band isn’t.