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Crazy Quilt: Taking Leave, Revision, Adjuncting

susan_bernstein
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This semester, I am taking an unpaid leave of absence from my adjunct teaching position. In drafting this first post of the Fall 2022 semester, I found my thoughts returning to the processes of revision. Taking leave, it seems to me, is revising and revisiting the narratives of working as an adjunct instructor, even as taking leave is also a privileged opportunity that I mean to use productively. After two and a half years of remote pandemic teaching, I can no longer see the possibility of returning to a normalcy that even in 2019 was non-existent. Instead, in taking leave, I am choosing revision. My intention is to grapple with multiple and workable pedagogical approaches to the crazy quilt of adjunct teaching.

A quilt of many colors and shapes arranged in irregular patterns.jpg

Quilt top, Crazy Pattern, ca. 1885 (Metropolitan Museum of New York from the Met Open Access Initiative

 

Taking Leave

In an article from Inside Higher Education, Rebecca Vidra helpfully offers advice on reasons to avoid quiet quitting, with links to articles on burnout and the Great Resignation. Most significantly, as Vidra suggests, “quiet quitting sounds awful for students” who inevitably bear witness to their teacher’s “simply slogging through each day with little to no enthusiasm.” Nevertheless, because I am not usually quiet, quiet quitting was not an option for me.  Instead, I decided to take an unpaid leave of absence from adjunct teaching. For me, at least at the outset, taking leave feels like a process of revision.

Vidra also suggests reevaluating key values. In order to do this, I considered the sources, course goals, and core themes of my remote syllabi. I imagined that the values could be assumed from those themes. At the same time, now that my leave of absence was confirmed, it seemed well past time to make my values explicit. In other words, as I have suggested in previous posts, what draws me to James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Audre Lorde, and Black Panther, and how are my values reflected in those sources by Black twentieth-century writers and thinkers, and a twenty-first century Black film? 

At the end of a long journal entry, I made a list of criteria–or key value–that my first-year writing sources throughout the pandemic seemed to share:

  • The work that goes into grappling with conflicts
  • The hope that joy will emerge for the greater good
  • The knowledge that conflicts aren’t solved for all of time, but that continuous work is needed

I wondered what these values had to do with teaching and learning to write. What skill sets was I trying to address?

 

Revision

Then, I put my journal away for several days and returned to quilting, revising and updating the crazy quilts I made from recycled fabric and patches in Arizona throughout the 2010s. Quilting helps me stay focused on a specific nonverbal task while my mind wanders through the rough terrain of thoughts that are often difficult to express in writing. The students’ multimedia work seemed to evolve from similar processes of wrestling with spoken and unspoken language, and reflecting on their work seemed crucial as well.

Needle in hand, I reconsidered the implicit and explicit work of teaching and learning and arrived at revision: the processes of reperceiving, rearranging, replacing, resourcing, refining, rethinking, reevaluating.  

Revision seems the most significant labor of writing, and also, at least for me, the hardest work. Revision:

  • Involves the processes of grappling with conflict. 
  • Creates potential  joy for the greater good and
  • Needs continuous work

 Baldwin, King, Lorde, and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler explore the same themes in multiple works. All four of these creators focus on breaking silence, bearing witness, and grappling with the white supremacist roots of colonialism and ongoing racist inequities in everyday life.  

 

Adjuncting

Is it possible, after teaching and studying these sources, to learn from the difficult lessons of remote learning–and to somehow use that learning to create a better classroom, if not a better world? Is it possible to do this worthwhile work in the midst of the precarity and uncertainty in the life of an adjunct instructor? 

Because I do not yet have an answer to these questions, I am taking leave this semester. I am looking forward to the crazy quilt of revision.

Quilting supplies placed on a white background with multicolored flowers.jpg

 Quilting Supplies (Photo by Susan Bernstein, March 2020)

About the Author
I am a writer and teacher living in Queens, New York. My book is "Teaching Developmental Writing" 4e. Other recent publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity.