At the end of session we’re suffering from marking fatigue, and for the lucky ones, getting ready for that “nice little trip away” during the break. But alas, the time has now come for Round Two of the 2014 Tutor Hunger Games—to begin our ritual of humiliation all over again in hopes of finding work next semester. May the odds ever be in our favour.
So it’s time to reflect on what we learned from our precarity in Session One. This website started something really special in 2014. CASA’s success in raising the profile of the year-in, year-out (YIYO) casual university teacher in Australia has lifted our spirits and facilitated a greater awareness of and links to adjunct support networks internationally.
What was learned this semester
Earlier this semester I wrote that our mission should include documenting the ‘systemic irresponsibility’ of universities. I called on universities to put their money where their mouth is and live by the same standards they market to undergraduates, by taking their own ethical statements and Graduate Qualities seriously.
A follow up article was published by CASA drawing on research about the growing gaps between policy and practice in universities, where a university preaches values and Graduate Qualities that are entirely absent in their treatment of YIYOs. Agnes Bosanquet makes the pertinent point:
So what can we learn from this? For all their rhetorical flourishes, university graduate attributes do genuinely exhort university graduates to action. This starts in the classroom. Together, teachers and students need to question the role of higher education in the development of capabilities such as ethical practice or moral standards; to interrogate the principles and values that underpin institutional graduate attributes; and to challenge to what extent attributes are universal, inclusive and achievable.
The contradiction between graduate attribute statements and university staffing practices is somewhere to start—to hold institutions accountable for the values that they promote to their students, and to ask that these are expressed clearly in the way in the institution itself behaves.
Systemic irresponsibility in practice
Prior to session starting and right through to week 1, I began by begging for teaching, and I wrote about my ethical dilemmas with participation in the Tutor Hunger Games.
By week 2 I had picked up 4 hours of teaching at one university and 4 hours at another, noting that for many permanent academics, a full time teaching load is anywhere between 8 and 12 hours face to face in classrooms, depending on the contract. These institutions are 90kms apart. So I worked at two universities in two part time roles which together amount to a full time load, doing more face to face teaching and marking than the subject co-ordinators and getting paid a fraction of the salary of a full time academic.
By week 3 I had a desk in a dark, cold, unused office for an hour a week. I find it ethically troubling that students are being offered consultations in public spaces and cafes due to the lack of office space available to staff.
In weeks 4-5 my teaching contracts were finalised and I could start claiming my pay.
In week 7 I found out that I had not been shortlisted to tutor, when I received this email from one of my employers:
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for applying for the role of YOU COULD BE A CASUAL TUTOR OR LECTURER!
Apologies as the process has taken longer than expected, we received many applications. The Faculty have advised that at this stage there is not a casual vacancy suitable to your skills and experience. However, they would like to keep your details on hold should any suitable casual roles come up in the future.
Should you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me on [phone number supplied].
Sincerely, [name supplied]’
Given that I was actually tutoring by that point, I called and left a phone message. I never heard back.
The low points of semester one
I was accepted to present at an interstate research conference. I had planned to self-fund the airfares, accommodation and other expenses but I decided to withdraw, given the looming prospect of not getting any teaching in semester 2 that would cover these costs.
Late in the semester, a close relative passed away and I had some responsibilities to make family arrangements. As the funeral was scheduled to conflict with my teaching, I asked what would happen to my pay, and was told that if I was unable to attend my class, I would not be paid. I have not had or been entitled to take any form of leave whatsoever in my decade or so of sessional teaching. I simply can’t afford to be sick, or have someone close to me pass away.
I started out the semester hopeful of finding full time work by the end. I was averaging 2-3 job applications a week across all sorts of occupations until the final weeks of session when marking fatigue began to set in. I am yet to attain full time employment.
I taught around 150 students face to face this semester. Even though I taught more students than full time staff normally do, I will still not make enough income to pay tax this financial year or even pay my HECS debts. This has been the case for more than a decade.
The lowest point is getting to the end of exams and realising that if all goes to plan, you will face it all again in a month’s time.
The high points of semester one
The highlights of semester one include the personal reflection activities I conducted in my classes in the first week and then again in the final week. During these classes students brainstormed the meanings and intentions of the university’s Graduate Qualities, and the evidence of these values in the subject assessments and classroom topics. The students’ responses to these exercises were really positive.
And of course it is all worthwhile when you get international student teaching feedback like this:
I’d like to thank you for a fantastic semester! Much of the content I learned in class will be helpful in addressing topics in future classes. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this contribution shortly: Improving Our Lot