Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Being a Contract Lecturer

A 'contract' lecturer is what we call being an 'adjunct', 'temporary' or a 'casual' lecturer here in New Zealand.

This is where you are not a permanent staff member with research conditions (ie, have to publish in peer reviewed journals in order to keep your teaching hours slightly more manageable).

Being a contract lecturer can be seen as being powerless, overloaded, lumped with crap jobs, and stressed.

Yep: it can be all those things. But frankly, having been a contractor for eight years, I don't see much advantage in being a permanent staff member.

As a contractor you get to choose the level of work you want to agree to, vary the papers you take, try a new challenge, say you are too busy to take on more than you are interested in, work for different schools, experiment, take holidays when you feel like it, teach online and face to face, AND claim your business expenses to offset against the piddling income.

If you get to love teaching, as I do, then that makes it almost like being paid to play (more about the piddling income later).

You can carry on working in your base field, and stay up to speed on as many fronts as you want to. You get to tap into an academic library and infrastructure that helps you stay up to date much better than you would if you were purely consulting.

You get to mix with an awesome array of professionals; learn to teach really well through modelling, observation, PD and coffee conversations; opt out of boring meetings; pull away from the politics of what is a government organisation; and get to ignore most of the restrictions that permanent staff are anchored with.

You get to swan in for lecture times, and then swan out again. You get to do your marking in your pyjamas at home. You get to teach what you apply in the field to new practitioners.

Recently, I undertook a comparison of what I would earn at my institution as a permanent staff member, compared to my contractor payments. I would get more pro rata if I were permanent, but I would lose the ability to claim my expenses (roughly a third of my income) for the added stress of having research conditions, and a quarter more workload.

I decided not to do it. 

Which brings up my main point: lecturers are grossly UNDERPAID. 

Each paper you take on is usually budgeted at around 60 hours 'delivery' - ie, face time with students - usually somewhere between $50 and $100 per hour. So you get paid between $3000-$6000 for a course. A full time load is 5.5 papers, therefore you get paid between $16,500-$$33,000 per semester. Two semesters equal $33-$66k per year!

OK, then you add research conditions on, and you go up 20%... $39-$69k. Wow. You have a Masters or a PhD and get paid like a plumber's-mate.

This is not cool.

And then there's the workload.

I teach well, and I work hard at continuous improvement. My classes are used as exemplars for new teachers. However, I could easily work 80 hours a week as a part-time lecturer teaching 4 papers (75% of a full time load, not including research conditions). I don't do 80 hours, but the work could easily eat up that much of my time, if I allowed it to.

Which would leave me no time for my consultancy work, for my writing or for my study. Nor would it keep up my retirement savings scheme.

Having a strong management background, I have set up systems and processes to streamline delivery, marking, resourcing and administration, which allow me to appear to deliver a Rolls Royce to students on my bicycle budget.

But that's the point, really: as a good teacher, I shouldn't be on the bicycle salary of a checkout operator or a plumber's-mate, while working twice their hours. 

There is something deeply rotten about where the education dollar is spent. It is poured into structures and infrastructure that gobbles up funding, but is not being spent at the front-end: on the person who delivers digestible learning to the learner, and guides that learner to independent, active, life-long learning.

There is a lesson in this, but I am not quite sure how we deliver it.


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