Adjuncts, Families, and Relationships: What Gets Lost

Good Adjuncts,
It’s time to reach beyond ourselves, and acknowledge who gets hurt as much, if sometimes, not more than ourselves by adjunctification: our families, our loved ones, our friends, and by our absence, our communities.
Yes, we work long hours for little pay and with minimal job security and benefits—that much is a sad given, but rarely do I see any of us as activists or even colleagues talk openly about what these conditions have on other significant people in our lives.
In no particular order…
I think about my son, who from the age of two had the experience of not seeing me in the morning when he woke up, or not seeing me when he went to bed, often for days at a time. With stacks of papers to grade and living in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with no office, I often saw coffee shop barristas more than I saw him. Weekends were often little better, for though I could give up that half day, either in the morning or the evening, there was that other half of the day I would miss. This continued on into his early school years, and teaching in the evenings, I almost never made it to parents’ night, the multi-cultural fair, the PTA, and so I assume, that when the parents who did have the time were there, they must have assumed I was one of those apathetic, self-interested parents.
Some years ago, I was at a meeting when a school board candidate said, as a pitch to get people to vote for him, “I know that for a good number of teachers out there, they like having that time to watch a ball game with their boy. . .” I don’t have the time to do this, and in fact, I have not watched an entire sporting event on television since before I became an adjunct. I perhaps don’t miss it, and I’m not sure my son, who is not into sports, doesn’t either. But honestly, I never had the time, or if I did, I needed it to bond or be with my family.
My son is now 17 and soon to be an adult. It’s as if I spent a blur of years teaching primarily young adults and now my son is one of them, and in another blur of years, he’ll be beyond that and gone.
I think about my wife. When we met and married in Japan (no she’s not Japanese, but she is Asian) I was making a comfortable living working as a teacher in Japan. Coming back to America, we envisioned a middle-class existence with evenings, weekends, a home in a safe neighborhood, and vacations. What we got was housing insecurity and her at home alone for long stretches because of daycare issues and no friends or family support. Once, while with my son on a rare trip to Del Mar with my son, she got asked who she was a nanny for. Later, ironically, once we were able to secure daycare, she did work as a nanny, a party-caterer, and as an office sandwich lady. It was a fine use of the Psychology degree she earned with distinction, and yet no other employer seemed to find use for.
Now my wife works as a post-partum doula, which means she works, like an adjunct, on a contingency basis, doing almost exclusively night shifts, sometimes for consecutive nights over the span of several weeks, which means that for us as a couple, in that I’m working all day, we sometimes are like two ships passing in the night. The stress and work conditions have contributed to her contraction of type-two diabetes, which thankfully, because I have health insurance through one of my jobs, she is able to receive treatment.
You don’t live these lifestyles without struggles not simply in finance, but in communication, emotional connection, intimacy, etc… Even as I write, I feel guilty for not giving her the time while I’m doing this.
I think about my late mother, who lived alone in a rural community in Western Montana, who pained over my inability to come visit, saw me as a workaholic when I all I was trying to do was maintain a job so I wouldn’t get fired, or as it is more politely worded, “fail to receive an assignment.” She felt alienated by and resented my absence. When she finally slipped into a coma and died, I had not spoken to her in a month. Neither of us had the chance to say goodbye.
I think about my father, a conservative man who also resides in rural Montana, resentful of the government and who views public educators as a menace. To engage in any discussion beyond the weather or daily life means to step into a chasm of perceptions so vast in difference that it’s hard to have any discussion at all. I feel from him no empathy for my work conditions, and no respect or understanding for the Southern California community in which I live. We share no real discussions, and have a limited relationship which can best be summed up by the statement: “You’re my blood kin and so I love you, but by this much.” We have not talked in months.
I think about my friends. On the one hand, there are my more affluent friends who invite us over to their spacious houses in their more affluent neighborhoods. At times my wife and I have tried to invite them over to our apartment, or later, our condo, both about 1100 square feet in size, and have been embarrassed by the sharp contrast. Once I invited such a friend to sit down on my 10-year-old used couch only to have him hit his head against the windowsill behind it because the space was so cramped. After a while, they politely suggested coming to events at their place because they have the space for it. At times when we can get them to let us treat, it’s at a restaurant away from our house and neighborhood.
On the other hand, there are my other friends who happen to be adjuncts themselves. Our schedules are often so crazy and variegated that if we do get together, it’s often for just a few hours at lunch, or the movies, and then, during Summer, Winter, or Spring breaks. If this is just a get together among friends without family, this can bring resentment from my wife and son, who understandably ask, “You are gone from us so much. Why don’t you have time for us?”
I think also about my community. Now I’m a union activist, and as a social unionist, I am involved with community-based groups like the CPI, the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, etc., and I go to Community College Board Meetings. However, I’m not involved with my Condo Association Board, and I don’t go to the local neighborhood association meetings. I periodically meet with my local state legislator Shirley Webber on union issues, but I think she’d be surprised to know that I live in her neighborhood, grade papers at the Malcolm X Library,eat often at Jaoquin’s just off of Euclid and Imperial in Southeast San Diego, know Huffman’s Barbeque and Bonnie Jean’s Soul Food Café, and had a son doing Summer SAT prep courses at the Bayview Baptist Church.
Being an adjunct is sometimes like being in a weird community of one’s own, a kind of bond made by a love of teaching and a resignation to financial and professional struggle: “Yes, you’re screwed, I’m screwed, and likely our families, and maybe even our students are screwed, but hey, I’ve got another stack to grade, and just think, only four more weeks ‘til the end of the semester…”
Now my good adjuncts, I’m thinking about you. When you think about speaking up and speaking out, consider those with you, those behind, and those who you have sometimes had to leave behind. This fight against adjuntification is not simply a fight for what we lose or are denied, but for those closest to us who are denied our better selves.
Live well and love,
Geoff Johnson
A father, husband, friend, community member, and Good Adjunct

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