By Christina Weszelits, JRN 111 Student
From the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed, professor Debra Brandt is constantly on the run. But she never shows her students she is in a rush, always taking the time to help math make sense for them.
“It is always go, go, go,” Brandt says. “I do not even get a chance to just take a breath and relax.”
Brandt has been a part of Moraine Valley Community College for 17 years, working in the mathematics department as an adjunct professor. Adjuncts are hired part time by colleges, paid by the course. To make ends meet, they often juggle classes at multiple colleges and spend a lot of time in their cars traveling from one to another.
“Most adjunct professors work at another school to sustain more income,” says Brandt, who also teaches developmental mathematics an hour away at Joliet Junior College. “There are a lot of adjuncts working an hour away from their homes. It might be five hours of teaching and three hours of traveling.”
Brandt says she keeps everything in her bag and often eats in her car. But she is able to set her own schedule, which means she can spend more time with her kids, something she says is “essential.”
Mrs. Brandt would be able to make anyone love math. She can make anyone understand the steps she wants all of her students to take.”Cassidy Ally
Even with her busy schedule, Brandt always takes the time to help her students. By using examples such as money and everyday situations, she makes math tangible. Her students say she makes it fun to learn the material.
“Brandt has a way of making numbers make sense by having examples and explaining the work thoroughly,” said Cara Killackley, who took Brandt for Math 090 in 2017. “She has a never-give-up attitude that pushes her students to their potential. By sharing this attitude with her students, she helps them succeed in her class, and this will be vital in the outside world.”
Her colleagues also define Brandt as someone who truly wants to see students succeed and who will put the time in to make sure that happens.
“Debra Brandt is an excellent teacher,” said Renee Damper, who works in the adjunct office as a receptionist. “She is a hard worker, and she does not hesitate to help her students. She will take the time to explain so the student can get ahead, and she will stay after class to help her students understand the material.”
The adjunct office is a shared office located in the B building, where many adjunct professors have office hours. Desks are shared with other professors. For example, if a professor teaches Monday and Wednesday, some other professor will use that desk on Tuesday and Thursday. That means Brandt does not have a personal space, and getting a desk can be difficult.
“I have a locker, but that is not a lot of space,” said Brandt.
According to data compiled by College Factual, adjuncts make up 76 percent of Moraine Valley faculty—higher than the nation’s average of 51.4 percent. Generally, colleges would rather hire adjunct professors because of cost. Adjuncts receive fewer benefits than full-time professors in terms of wages, health insurance and job security.
One of the biggest difficulties is simply putting together a schedule of courses to teach, especially in post-pandemic times, as enrollment is lower at many colleges. Full-time professors choose their courses first, and adjuncts choose from what is left.
“It can be challenging picking classes because you do not get the first pick,” Brandt says. “Sometimes, the adjunct professor may not get any classes that semester.”
Adjuncts cannot finalize their schedules until the last minute because one of their courses can be taken by a full-time professor if that professor has a course that doesn’t fill.
Despite the crazy schedule of taking her show on the road each week, Brandt is able to convey her love of her subject to her students. She is the kind of person who can simplify math for those who do not understand it.
“Mrs. Brandt would be able to make anyone love math,” said Cassidy Ally, who took Brandt for Math 095. “She can make anyone understand the steps she wants all of her students to take. Math is a building block, and you need to have each and every step. If you do not nail every step, you are going to get the question wrong, and you will have no idea what you did.”