Clarion Masthead

Clarion's Roving Reporter Asks Adjunct Faculty: Why Do You Teach at CUNY?

Kimberly del Gaizo
Adjunct Lecturer
Special Ed, Deaf & Hard of Hearing
Teaching at CUNY since 2000

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I am in deaf and hard of hearing education, teaching graduate students at Hunter. I am very committed to the field – having taught every semester since 2000 (and I generally teach two classes each semester). I also work directly with deaf and hard of hearing children full time for the New York City Department of Education. I have a very personal connection with this population of students and am honored to help prepare future teachers.

While a number of our graduates have found work in other states – Virginia, Georgia, Colorado, Hawaii and elsewhere – the majority work in the tri-state area. Over 80 of my former students are now working as teachers of the deaf for the New York City Department of Education - something quite fulfilling for me. In fact, 10 of my former grad students are now my colleagues in the Bronx. And I am always honored to receive letters from others who graduated 10 or 15 years ago. Being their professor for two, three, and sometimes four of their deaf ed classes creates a very tight bond between us that I treasure dearly.


Esperanza Martell
Adjunct Lecturer
Hunter School of Social Work
Teaching at CUNY since 1987

What brings me back, year after year, is to be able to serve my community – poor, working-class people of color, who supposedly are who CUNY serves. I find that there are fewer people of color, from working-class backgrounds, who are CUNY faculty. The University is primarily white, with little or no understanding of the needs of poor working-class students of color. All students are harmed by the lack of diversity in the faculty. So this is what brings me back – the needs of a college community that is underserved and marginalized.

I don’t have to tell you that being an adjunct is tough. And as we get older, it gets worse and worse. So the question is, am I complicit in my own oppression as an educator, accepting low pay and poor working conditions? Is it worth it, to help people of color and our allies to get a master’s in social work? In the long run, will it make a difference in our community, where our students are being trained to be gatekeepers?
I ask myself these questions all the time. But as long as I can do this work to transform gatekeepers into critical thinkers and gate-openers – yes, it is worth it.


Kathryn Szczepanska
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Russian and Slavic Studies
Teaching at CUNY since 1990

Teaching language classes involves a lot of acting, a lot of energy trying to get students to participate and to make it fun, to make them laugh and to make them think at the same time. I usually have large classes. Right now, one group has 20 students and the other has 28, both fairly large for language study.

I assign a lot of homework, and I correct all my homework, because I need to know what the students don’t know. I give extensive corrections and explanations. Then in class, after I spend time explaining the grammar, I’ll break them up into groups or have them work one-on-one or they’ll do a quick written assignment in class that I’ll take home. I try to keep it as lively as possible.

I’ve been teaching Russian at Hunter since 1990. In 2010, I was given one of Hunter’s Presidential Awards for Teaching. After working at CUNY for 25 years, I just can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. There is always such an incredible mix of people that it keeps things interesting. I love my students, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.


David Alm
Adjunct Associate Professor
Film and Media Studies
Teaching at CUNY since 2006

There’s something really compelling about Hunter’s history and what it represents. I consider it an enormous privilege to be able to contribute to the education of such a diverse student body. Immigrants, people who are the first in their family to go to college, former models finally going back to school at age 25, people putting themselves through college at age 40 after spending 20 years as a delivery person for FedEx, kids who got into Columbia or NYU but chose Hunter for any number of reasons – it’s all kinds of people, it’s a cross-section of New York.
It’s very different from where I went to college, where almost all of the students were 18- to 22-year-olds whose parents paid their tuition and who were in college because that’s what they were expected to do.

I take the responsibility of teaching at Hunter very seriously. When you can really engage students, help them become more critical thinkers, that’s very rewarding. And it’s rewarding to see where they go afterwards. I’ve written countless letters of recommendation over the years, helped students get into law school, master’s programs, programs to study abroad. It’s great to hear back from them years later, to hear what they’ve gone on to do.


Cindy Wishengrad
Adjunct Lecturer
English
Teaching at CUNY since 2003

My students are great. Each class is different, and I like that. I teach ESL, and right now I’m teaching is a late class, at night, at BMCC. The students are all working, and they’re very motivated. They get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, go to work all day and then they’re in class until late at night.

They all work very different jobs. A lot of the women are nannies, or in home health care. But a lot work in banks, in retail establishments. Most work in English-speaking establishments, so they can speak reasonably well – it’s their writing that needs work. It’s great when you run into them later, and they say, “Oh, professor, I’m so happy I took your class! It really helped me.”

The life of an adjunct is not easy, as you know. There’s always a chance that your course will be cancelled at the last minute – and then it’s usually too late to replace it. I haven’t had this happen at Hunter or BMCC, but I have at other colleges. You think have your schedule set and then it can be pulled right out from under you. There’s a lot of anxiety.

I’ve been fairly lucky, I’ve never lost more than one class. But if you do, it can be a disaster.