Next Wednesday, February 25, 2015, will be the first National Adjunct Walkout Day. It was proposed last October by an anonymous adjunct faculty member who teaches writing at San Jose State University. She cited concerns about employment issues, including job security, pay, benefits, institutional support, and the impact that adjunct teaching conditions may have on student success. Furthermore, some states and unions even prohibit members from striking.
I remember my very first exposure to strikes was when I was in either kindergarten or first grade. My aunt was a special education teacher at a public school, and she went on strike with the other teachers in the district. As such, she pulled my brothers and me out of class as fresh recruits for the picket lines. We made signs and marched in circles and chanted–what we chanted, I can’t recall. Although we were stoked to miss school, we got bored and fatigued relatively quickly. I don’t remember what the outcome of the strike was. When I returned to school, I learned I was the only student in my class who was absent during the strike, and all of my classmates looked at me askance.
Now as an adjunct myself, I’ve yet to decide how I’ll participate in National Adjunct Walkout Day in a week and a half. When I had heard about the movement, the first thing I thought was, If I walk out, what about my students? I’d be doing a disservice to them! After all, my students and their success are my primary concern. I quickly referred to my syllabus to see what was on the schedule (yes, I’m one of those instructors who plan out my entire term, down to every single class meeting). For my students on the quarter system, we’d be in Week Eight of classes and in the midst of discussing a very important part of a rather complex novel with multiple layers of meaning. For my semester students, we’d be in Week Five, a time when I’m still scaffolding instruction on evaluating and making logical inferences from the text as well as assessing the impact of literary devices.
But a walkout isn’t the only way to pledge support. There are also grade-ins. For this, adjuncts meet at a central location on campus to hold office hours and work in order to highlight how adjuncts sometimes don’t have their own designated office space. Another alternative to walking out is to take the day as an opportunity to expand awareness. Adjunct can wear paraphernalia, such as T-shirts, that identifies them as such. Furthermore, the idea of a teach-in is also quite attractive. Instead of walking out, adjuncts can spend class time discussing adjunct faculty concerns with their students. As a means of authentic assessment, students can be encouraged to write a letter of civic engagement or even post their support on social media.
Regardless of where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing on Wednesday, February 25, 2015, it’ll be interesting to track the developments leading up to and following this movement.