From Chronicle Vitae:
I spent five years on the tenure track. Now I’m an adjunct, and the move has affected my teaching in ways I didn’t anticipate. I’m not the teacher I once was, largely thanks to the lack of support I receive as an adjunct. Sadly, my students suffer the loss.
I was an excellent teacher on the tenure track, and my evaluations—both from students and colleagues—consistently said so. When I began the job, I had a heavy 4/4 undergraduate teaching load and little classroom experience. But thanks, in part, to my departmental colleagues, who generously gave me their time, advice, and encouragement and shared ideas and materials with me, I quickly improved. In those early years, the countless conversations I had with them about pedagogy, students, and classroom content inspired and helped me to hone my teaching skills. Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to revising old courses and developing new ones. I guest-lectured in my colleagues’ classes and later co-taught with them too.
I also got university support—in the form of course buyouts, seminar funding, professional-development workshops, service-learning resources, etc.—that allowed me to take my teaching to the next level. I designed community service-learning courses and collaborative research seminars. I took students to conferences to present their original research. I helped run internship fairs for students and mentored them throughout their required senior practicum. I got to know them and the university well, and was therefore able to mentor themin their studies and help them navigate campus life. I served as the department’s undergraduate advisor and gladly supervised students’ honors theses, wrote them recommendation letters, and helped them complete graduate-school applications.
I did all this with the backing of my department, which was invested in building my teaching skills. And I did it through hard work—spurred by the enticement of tenure and paid for partly in a lopsided work-life balance.
In hindsight, I probably did too much: I willingly let teaching eat up my time, and when I tried to dedicate more time for research, I couldn’t seem to find a path that would also allow me to have a home life. I searched for successful academic mothers, and what I saw were models I couldn’t imitate. I convinced myself that I didn’t really have the drive for the tenure track, even at this somewhat small-time state university. Teaching was all I really wanted to do and I thought I could focus on it in a different kind of position. So I quit before going up for tenure.
I had other reasons for walking away: worry and stress from campus politics; financial anxiety from the high cost of living and my low assistant-professor salary, made worse by the fact that my husband hadn’t secured permanent work locally and by my family’s dislike for the region where we were living. I relinquished a tenure-track job so that my family could move back to the city my husband and I still considered home, and so he could take a job there. (Yes, I know. Volumes could be said about that choice, including its gendered nature. Suffice it to say that thanks to the economic downturn, I soon realized what a dumb mistake I’d made. And lest I forget, my father—himself a Ph.D. who worked his entire career for the same national lab—kept reminding me that I’d “thrown away my career.”)