This story is the first in a series of Q&A’s with adjunct professors from around the Dallas County Community College District. Our first interview is with Dr. Aaron Juniper, an adjunct at Richland College. You can read the first part of our conversation here. This is the second and final part of our discussion.
Bobby Lewis: Right, right. So going back to your adjunct stuff, are there any main advantages or disadvantages to teaching adjunct as opposed to teaching full-time?
Aaron Juniper: You know in this profession, I see everything as a teacher, so I’m going to be real honest with you: I don’t see any disadvantages. Everything is an advantage from this standpoint because I can choose my hours around my normal schedule, so that’s a big advantage. The disadvantage is that I’m not there enough for my regular students. Sometimes they want to see you, but it’s kind of hard to reach an adjunct. We don’t have our own offices. There’s an office that we use over in the administration building, but everybody uses one work area, so it’s kind of hard to talk to more than one student at a time. If I teach night classes and some students want to come see me in the daytime, they can’t. You know, full-time professors are there from like 8-3. Something like that. It makes them more accessible. So I think the disadvantage comes with not being face-to-face- accessible. You can only get so much communication done electronically and on the phone. If I can get a group of them there at one time, then we can have tutorial sessions and things like that. So accessibility would probably be the least advantageous.
BL: I’ve heard about classes being cancelled for adjuncts at the last second and things like that.
AJ: [Laughs] Yes. [Laughs]
BL: Have you faced that before?
AJ: I’ve faced that many times.
BL: Really? What’s that like?
AJ: I’ve faced that more times than I would really want to remember. In the beginning when I was really dependent on the income and the first couple of times it happened, it was real frustrating and it was like, “Do you want to keep doing this?” And you wait up, man, until like midnight the day of. And if you’re not waiting, man, you’ll come ready to teach and they’ll tell you, “Oh, your class didn’t make.” “My class didn’t make?” So yeah, man, it can get real frustrating. Especially if that’s like your main – like a lot of adjuncts, that’s money that they’re looking forward to.
AJ: So from the money standpoint, yeah, it’s not that much of an inconvenience because it kind of frees you up to do other things, but it is kind of frustrating sometimes. [Laughs] You know, you get in a habit of doing what you’re not supposed to do and counting your chickens before they hatch.
BL: Right, right.
AJ: And you’re like, “I got these two classes. I’m going to have this, this, this and this.” And then the class don’t make and it’s just a bad time. It’s just a bad time. But it can be frustrating. The first time it happened, it was kind of like, “Wow!” Especially with EDUC 1300 because they have so many sections. They have so many sections and so many instructors.
BL: Right. You mentioned you can sometimes think, “Do I want to keep doing this?” How did you get the desire to keep moving forward?
AJ: It’s the payoff, man. In education, most of the reward is intrinsic. When you see somebody that’s unsure about their future and then they get in class, they have a little bit more clarity about life. Or a degree plan. Or somebody that wasn’t college-ready, you get them college-ready. So a lot of it’s intrinsic. You really have to love human development to go into this profession. So it’s not really so much of a monetary reward, but just seeing that you’re helping families. There’s a lot of students, especially at Richland – single moms, some of them are single dads. And just to see them on the way to make a better future for themselves, that’s what gives me the motivation to just keep going. If I don’t get it at Richland, then I know I’m going to be able to serve someone on the other level. It’s all about the service. It’s more of a service profession than a get rich or a high-paying job. Those are really the administrators and once you get that kind of money, you’re so out of touch with actual human development. So I like the human development part of it, man.
BL: Right, right.
AJ: A lot of people tell me I should be a pastor.
BL: [Laughs] It sounds like it, to be honest with you.
AJ: [Laughs] “Your true calling is in the pulpit.” I said, “No, just give me a podium.”
BL: [Laughs] Right! I was going to ask you how you feel like you’ve grown as an instructor since you started, but have you always had – just from talking to you for 15 minutes, it sounds like you have a really powerful voice. Have you always felt like you’ve possessed that?
AJ: Yeah, yeah. When I was in middle school, my nickname was Professor.
BL: Really? [Laughs]
AJ: Yeah, all my homeboys would call me Professor. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense until I enrolled in the PhD program and I was talking to one of my buddies and he was like, “So man, what are you doing now?” And I said, “Man, you ain’t even going to believe it if I told you.” And I said, “I’m on my way to be a college professor.” And he said, “Man we always called you Professor!” “Yeah, y’all did.” So, yeah man as I look back on it, I was always that guy. In undergrad, I always had the study sessions over to my house, over to my apartment. And I was always telling people, “Hey man, we’re going to kick it, but on Sunday morning, we’re going to go to the library and we’re going to study.” I’ve always been that, I guess that beacon, as far as getting people into academics. So, yeah man, it’s something that’s been with me for a while.
BL: Yeah, it sounds like it. Where’d you grow up?
AJ: Oklahoma City.
BL: OK, gotcha. And this’ll kind of wrap this up, but just on a typical day when you teach, what is your day like? How busy are you?
AJ: It starts out with probably 6:00 in the morning checking backpacks, making sure homework is done from the night before. [Laughs] And all the way to the end of the night when I’m making sure that…you know, I’m a teacher here, I’m a teacher in the class. I’ve got clients at the Episcopal School of Dallas and Parish Episcopal, so sometimes it takes me to both of those schools. At 6:00, I usually start with, if I don’t have a class – well this semester I didn’t have a class, so I’m doing ACT Prep and College Readiness. Come back home at night. About 9:00, we’ve got to sit down and we’ve got to finish our math and our science. I mean, it’s an all day thing, man. I have friends who tell me, “Man, can’t you turn it off?”
BL: Right! [Laugh]
AJ: “Can you turn it off?” I’m in line at the grocery store and I’m asking kids, “Where do you go to school? What’s your favorite subject? How old are you? What grade are you in? Have you taken the ACT Test? Where do you plan on going to school? Where do you line up on your VARK? What is your strongest learning modality?” Stuff like that. “Like man, turn it off!”
AJ: I can’t man! [Laughs]
BL: Well it sounds like you’ve reached a lot of kids, man.
AJ: Yeah man, I really think I’ve touched a lot of lives, man. I think I have.