One of the joys (dripping with sarcasm) of being an adjunct faculty is teaching core requirement classes, year after year. This joy is particularly accentuated if you teach a subject like mathematics for liberal arts majors–a core requirement imposed on non-math and non-science majors (Also a class that the tenured or tenure track faculty avoid teaching like the plague).
Most non-mathematics and non-science majors (I know I’m making a sweeping generalization but one that has been backed by many years of anecdotal evidence) tend to have an aversion to mathematics because of the difficulties or the lack of engagement that they have experienced, year after year, in their traditional K-12 mathematics classrooms. Also, the topics that they are required to learn in these classes are not always useful or applicable to their particular fields.
Hence, I have the insurmountable task of engaging students who either have absolutely no interest in or have developed an aversion to the subject over a long period of time. This task is made even harder for me because I am bound to teach in a traditional manner (mainly lecturing) because that’s what my department requires. Also, we have to “cover” many different topics but we don’t actually have enough time to meaningfully delve into any of these topics.
So students often resent coming to class, they resent being assigned anything that requires thought and work and (no matter how helpful, encouraging and patient you are) they eventually (usually by the end of the semester) resent you (with a few exceptions of course). Furthermore, if you happen to be a non-white woman, then certain students question your credibility, intelligence and abilities…adding salt to injury.
Because of the way that these courses are designed, the content often is not intellectually engaging or challenging for the instructor (I’ve taught far more intellectually challenging classes at the high school level). So I neither get satisfaction from engaging with the subject matter nor from seeing my students excited about learning.
Today I hit a low point when some of my students asked me what a basic term meant during a test. I had defined this term in my lectures over and over again. I had given H.W. assignments addressing this term. I had given a question on this term in a quiz and reviewed the quiz before the test. However, to some of my students, it was as if I had done none of the above. It seemed that all my efforts had come to naught…it was totally depressing.
When someone works for nearly nothing, one expects to at least get fulfillment from one’s work (which could come in the form of respect, “love,” and intellectual engagement)…but no such luck here.