by Melisa Crosby
I started as part-timer at PCC fresh out of PSU in the summer of 1990 after a wonderful spring term spent student teaching in the long-defunct Refugee ESL Program housed at the old Ross Island Center. I worked there for a number of years, gaining valuable experience working with students from a wide variety of backgrounds and learning everything I could from my colleagues about how to be a better ESL teacher.
After taking a couple of years off to have a baby and deal with family issues, I returned to PCC in 1996 to teach in the Multicultural Academic Program based at Southeast Center. I absolutely loved working with the refugee and immigrant youth we served and became especially skilled at supporting the beginning level newcomer students as they transitioned to life in the US. We had a close community of teachers in that program and constantly worked to improve our ability to serve our students. Populations changed over the years but we never wavered in our dedication to serving those kids.
In the time I worked as a part time instructor for MAP I was grateful to the faculty federation for all their hard work on our behalf. I saw my pay increase noticeably over the years. Non-credit instructors became eligible for PERS in 2000 and in 2007, shortly after I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease, it was a huge relief to finally be eligible for health insurance through my employer. My hours were steady and, thanks to the assignment rights system, I could make plans because I knew I could count on regular work.
Around 2009, at the height of the economic meltdown we (along with all programs serving similar populations) began experiencing a rapid decline in enrollment as fewer newcomers arrived in the US needing our services. We attempted to adjust by combining levels and letting new teachers go but eventually we realized we were no longer able to provide our students with the best English education possible using the model that had worked so well over the years.
A decision was made to send our 16-21 year old students to adult ESOL classes and cut out all but a few support classes for MAP students. The idea was that our teachers would be hired by ESOL and our assignment rights honored and this is what happened for every other teacher from our program. Unfortunately, in order for me to teach for ESOL, I needed to earn my master’s degree. Because my husband had recently been laid off and I saw this as my best chance to support my family, I took out a huge loan and went to graduate school and worked through the program as quickly as I could, earning excellent grades. Despite the assurance I received about my assignment rights being honored, I found when I graduated that PCC ESOL departments were unwilling to hire me for anything other than temporary summer positions, citing too many instructors “ahead of me”. While MAP (later renamed PCC Links) kept me on at a fraction of my former hours to teach support classes, this was not enough income to feed my family and repay my school loan so I started teaching anywhere I could find work, at one point commuting over 300 miles a week just to barely scrape by. I was earning far less than I earned as a 20+ year PCC part timer and received no benefits. Luckily I still had a few hours of Links classes to maintain my health insurance and other benefits.
In the spring of 2015 I learned that my Links class would be canceled for the summer, dropping me below the necessary threshold for health insurance eligibility. I contacted all the ESOL department chairs in the hopes that someone could offer me enough work to maintain my insurance but even those folks who took the time to respond assured me there was no work for me. The union tried to intervene on my behalf with no success. Then in June of this year, just a few weeks after completing my 25th year at PCC, I learned that my Links manager decided to cancel my class altogether and, with that, I was no longer a union member and no longer a PCC part timer. I now work for PCC solely as an hourly “trainer” with the International Education department. I’m grateful that I still get to work with ESL students but I’d feel a lot better about things had I not taken a significant pay cut, been kicked out of the union, and lost my health benefits, tuition waivers for my kids, retirement, and even the slightest semblance of job security.
I’m a good teacher. My students learn and they have a great time in my classes. My colleagues have, to my knowledge, felt positive about working with me and have found me willing to jump in and work on projects. I’ve never had a bad review in all these years. But, thanks to our pay scale, I am an expensive employee and that is the best reason I can come up with for how I’ve been completely ignored by ESOL. It is hurtful and humiliating after all the years I’ve worked for PCC to have no one step up on my behalf and ensure my continued employment. I have no one to fight for me and I can only think that this is exactly what colleges and universities want as they increasingly rely on contingent labor. We need to have a system in place that values experienced teachers rather than simply tossing us aside when we become too expensive. I don’t know how this can be accomplished, but I do know that no one should be left out in the cold after 25 years of good work at PCC.