creative writing

The G-ddam Academic Market

shield-1020318_1280When I graduated with my MFA in 2010, I thought I had gone on “the market.” Oh how I lied to myself. I finished my MFA and eagerly, nay, foolishly took two positions at two different schools an hour away from each other as an adjunct. I spent most of my time that fall and again that spring driving back and forth from campus to campus to make about $10,000 for the year. Yes, I know my tale is one the media has begun to tell. NPR did a story or two about it. The Chronicle has done great coverage of the issue of the adjunct. Also Dr. Karen L. L. Kelsky has done excellent work helping graduate students find the elusive tenure track positions on her blog, The Professor is In. If you haven’t read her book of the same title, for goodness sake, buy yourself a copy and do yourself the favor. Anyway, back to my sad story of my adjuncting experience.

When I graduated, I was so eager to get to work. I thought being an adjunct might give me some necessary experience to be a professor, despite my grad school professors warning me against it. I also had taught high school before being a TA and had gotten the taste of teaching college students and didn’t want to go back to parent emails and the bureaucratic bullshit of teaching high school. I didn’t want to join a profession that was on the downslide. A profession constantly being vilified in the media? No thank you!

Once I got engaged, shit changed. I wanted to get a little more settled. I wanted a job where I didn’t have to drive back and forth across my state to be living under the poverty line.  I wanted health insurance, not necessarily because I am unhealthy–I’m not–I knew I wanted children and those little things are expensive and impossible to care for without health insurance. As a side note, Mini-OneMean recently ran into a bookcase at daycare (also expensive) and had to go to the Emergency Room. There were no stitches needed just tape and glue to close the cut. This set my little family back $700. Yes, you read that correctly, $700 dollars. When my appendix ruptured–there’s a fun story I’ll eventually type out for you all, readers–it cost about $4000 bucks with the insurance. Needless to say, my move to teaching high school and making a salary and having insurance was a the fiscally responsible one.

The issue, of course, then became I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t doing the one thing I was an expert on. Instead I was spending an exceedingly large amount of my time after school working on crap that was not nourishing and not moving me in the direction of that elusive tenure track job. Though I have been teaching high school, I have made it a point to stay abreast and relevant in my field as an academic. I’ve been presenting at conferences and have continued to attend the AWP conference, despite not being a professor at a college or university. It was (is) important to me to continue to be present as an “academic.” I even wrote sporadically. I wrote enough to keep getting published, though not nearly enough, and I don’t have a book or chapbook or anything big enough to get me an interview. At least this is my theory and one that the Husband has said is very likely the reason I have not received a phone call for an interview.

My friends in academia, one in particular who is a department chair, has said my job documents are great. My friend has gone above and beyond to help me refine my job documents, even looking at ads, sending me ads, and telling me when a job is a long shot or to apply for certain jobs because I’m definitely qualified. Still, my phone doesn’t ring, I’ve gotten no interviews, and I’ve been applying for jobs since October. People, it is JULY.

Since summer began, I have had this hope that any day now, I’ll be emailing my high school to tell them I won’t be returning in August. I have growing anxiety about telling my school, a workplace that has been pretty good to me, that I won’t be back. Sorry (not sorry) the school year is starting and you need find my replacement because no parent wants a substitute teacher in their kid’s English class. I have wonderful coworkers and even though I bitch about them, pretty wonderful students. Because of my seniority, I teach all the classes I want to teach. It’s not a bad gig given the circumstances. While I wouldn’t hesitate to take a college job, even if that meant leaving the first day of school for my high school students, I would feel so terrible about it. I don’t know why I’m worrying about this hypothetical scenario given the lack of evidence that it will happen (i.e. no interviews), but I am. I would hate to burn a bridge that has kept me out of some dangerous waters.

Here’s the thing though, since summer began, Mini-One Mean has been going to daycare. I drop the little kid off, drive home, and WRITE. It’s been glorious. I’m writing and submitting and applying for college jobs. Yesterday, however, as I wound down my work and realized I had spend nearly 6 hours working on job applications and not on writing, I became extremely discouraged. After nearly 40 job applications–17 just this month–I have heard silence. Yesterday, I even said the rosary for the first time since my mother died–3 years. I wept in my car as I said my prayers, basically begging God to get me through this job search.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle. I was told that some people apply to 200 jobs only to get nothing. I’m blessed to be employed and to be employed at a place that isn’t hell. It just feels a lot like a purgatory right now. I’m waiting and waiting and waiting. My confidence is totally shot, but on the upside, I’ve done more writing this summer than I have since grade school, and I’m exercising, and I’m happy(ish). I am worried that come this October I’ll be back on the market again, and I wonder how many more years I will put myself through this process before resigning and accepting that I will teach high school until I retire.

This thought, this “Plan B: High School Teacher” is not okay with me. The Husband is always saying you can’t have a Plan B, only a Plan A because then you give up on Plan A. I definitely and beginning to feel the pressure of this. It’s like be a professor or bust! I would hate to end up settling into this profession and have my kiddo (or maybe kiddos) see that I settled for work that wasn’t enriching. It was for the benefits and stability. While there is nothing wrong with wanting those things, it’s just not enough.

If you’re on the market right now, or thinking about getting on the market, know I’m standing with you in solidarity. It’s a shit process, and it’s degrading. It’s difficult and trying, and if you are lucky enough to have a spouse, lean on them. Know, however, if your spouse, like mine, isn’t in academia but in the corporate world, he or she will be clueless. My husband is a smart man. He is a really smart man. I married him for his mind (and his looks ;-D), but he doesn’t get it. I love him to to death, but he doesn’t get it. He does get the publishing element, his theory is, get the book published, and you’ll get a job. This go around, as I’ve applied for Lecturer and Instructor positions–those positions more focused on teaching versus research and have heard nothing–I’m not so sure the book would be enough. I’m applying for Assistant Professor jobs. These are ENTRY LEVEL positions. A book is not a requirement in the ad. Maybe like the Husband, I don’t get it either.

Regardless, I’ll continue to plug away at job ads. I’m not sure when I’ll decide to hang up the towel. Hopefully, it won’t come to that. I do know that I’m relieved to be caught up with job applications today because my novel is waiting to be revised so it can be sent out to possible agents. That’s real and tangible and also a great place for rejection.

 

Well, S&^!

Randomly, I was looking for a poem I had written and posted here. I had nearly forgotten that I had this blog.

Shame.

On.

Me.

I was totally sucked into my stupid high school teaching job. Meanwhile, this perfect space was waiting. I looked and saw that I hadn’t written anything since January. Nearly a year has passed. 9 months. I could have incubated a baby in that time.

Crazy.

I’m currently teaching a creative writing class at the high school level. This is fun and depressing. Have you ever read teenage poetry? Mostly, it’s awful. Mostly, it’s about breaking free from the tyranny of parents or about having a crush. Today, I spent nearly the entire day working on writing end comments for my students’ poetry.

As this year has passed, I realize (at this very moment) that everything I write is for someone else.

End comments for my creative writing students.

End comments for student essays

End comments for online students

Emails to a crazy PLC lead who is driving me to madness

Emails to administrators

Emails to my contractor who is taking an ice age to finish work on a tiny house

Emails to the parents of my students

More f***ing emails

My time is spent in meetings. An absurd amount of meetings. The amount and content of those meetings would be something Stoppard and Beckett would find too absurd.

Meanwhile, it’s all being ignored. All meaning the important stuff.

How does one even fix this problem? I guess, just like weight loss or quitting smoking, or deciding to become a marathon runner, it must come from within.

As I looked through old posts on this blog, I see that this is a running theme. I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I don’t have time.

Right now, as I type this, I’m in my classroom. School has been out for almost two hours. I’ve been to a meeting and have written my last end comment for the day. I have a mountain of papers to grade and should probably stay another 3 hours to get close to finishing it by Friday.

Instead, I’m going to head home and read and plan my writing for Nanowrimo and finish the laundry.

Sorry for the random stream of consciousness.

One Mean MFA is f***ing back.

Learning Not to Starve/How I Learned to Feed Myself

Last fall, around October, I had a mental breakdown.  I was bitching to FH about teaching, my students, my weight–everything really. Because he is a wonderful and supportive man, he helped me through it and made me realize that putting in the effort level that I was putting into my teaching needed to be rerouted. I needed to focus on my writing and my career, not my students who didn’t give a f&%!.   Whenever I write, I feel so good. I feel great. Nourished. He reminded me that I needed to write and be nourished because my students weren’t putting the effort in. It was difficult for me to do this at first, but by the time the spring semester rolled around I did just that.

I have now started my memoir, and started work on a short story. Two things I’ve been meaning to do for months, and I finally got around to doing it this semester. I could not have done this if I had been too focused on my students. Still, while I’m proud of myself for reading and writing more, I do think I was terrible teacher this semester. I’m confident that my evaluations will reflect this.

Things I did very badly semester:

1. Took forever to grade student papers.

2. Didn’t respond to emails as quickly as I should have (if at all).

3. Didn’t encourage office hours.

4. Had an attitude of “I don’t give a hoot” all sememster.

5. Was lazy in my lesson planning.

I could go on, but I think these five crimes are enough to show you that I was a bad teacher.

While, yes, I was a bad teacher this semester, I do feel I became this way because when I did give my all, I didn’t get it back from students. While this is not an excuse, even teachers breakdown and need to be rewarded. Even if it is with students turning in their work.

I went digital this semester and only collected work through Blackboard. Having the students submit their work electronically had problems (possible post issue) and while I repeatedly went over the correct formatting and procedure, students continued to struggle with it. In part, I feel they may have been playing dumb in order for me to go the traditional hardcopy format of collecting papers. I also think they don’t listen.

When I look back on this semester, all I think about is how much my students complained to me (and my boss –at the one school) repeatedly. I think about how it was impossible to satisfy my students (and both bosses), how my assignments and methods were questioned continually by both my students and boss (at the one school). Most semesters I feel some moments of reward, incentive to come back next year. I can honestly say, if I I don’t get a teaching job for the fall I wouldn’t be upset in the slightest. I would be totally fine with it (barring I had something lined up that was salaried). In fact (I’ve probably mentioned this already), I’ve been applying for jobs outside of education.

This semester has made me realize that there is life outside of academia. There is a big world out there, and people with my skills can be used in any field. I don’t have to be a teacher.

My mom, my boss (at the school I like), and others have told me that I’m a great teacher. That it comes naturally. I have a gift apparently. Having been told this throughout my career, I never ventured outside of the school walls. When you have a gift, aren’t you supposed to use it? Aren’t you supposed to take that gift and help others with it? (God, I’m so Catholic sometimes) I love school, as both student and teacher, why leave a place that I feel so comfortable? The thing this is this year I haven’t felt comfortable. My hair has fallen out in clumps, since last May I’ve gained about 15 pounds, and I dreaded driving to work. Oh! and my panic attacks and migraines returned. My body gave me physical signs that I needed a change.

The last day of finals I woke up with my chest feeling heavy; I still needed to grade some papers and finalize my grades. As I drove away from campus, done for the semester, I felt lighter and happier. All I need now is a good cry to get out the negative energy still remaining in my system.

The fact that I haven’t been happy, and excited to work on teaching stuff is a culmination of many things. First off, I don’t love teaching the modes, I prefer teaching argument, literature, and of course creative writing. I have had the opportunity to teach argument, but the curriculum and textbook required were not suited to my teaching style at all. I teach a lot of lazy students at the community college level which is actually an extension of high school. Many of my students weren’t at the level necessary to really dig deep. They struggled with basic computer skills, and no concept of how to do research. Also, the lack of care that went into their work was unbelievable. They didn’t proofread, or acknowledge that there are rules of formatting at all. It’s like they just discovered different fonts and decided to experiment using Calbri and Garmound in my class. I think the real kicker as to why I haven’t been happy teaching this semester (okay, all year) was because I was repeatedly told by my bosses (both schools) that I’m too hard on  my students, that I don’t have compassion and am insensitive to the non-traditional student. They are right, I don’t give a f&*$. Get your work done. There is not an employer in the world who would tolerate excuses like: my kids were sick, or I didn’t understand the assignment so I just didn’t do it, or you didn’t respond to my email so I didn’t know how to move forward. Really? Give me an effing break.

So when I think about how I’ve changed because of this semester I realize that not only have I been writing more, but I’m reading more. I’m also really excited about the possibility of a career change (separate post on topic to follow). While I would take pretty much any salaried job that was in my field, that prospects in education don’t look so good, but maybe that’s a good thing. Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t turn down a teaching job, but if I had the choice between a job outside of education (like copy editing or something like that) and a job in education, I think the job outside might win. Just the thought of leaving my work at work….oh sweet lord. If anything, I’m not going to settle. I’m going to turn something that could easily be a negative into an opportunity to refocus and change.

Teaching-wise, not my best year. Work-wise, not my best year. But, something great did come out of this year: more writing and really understanding that I need to be nourished by work. If I’m not going to be nourished and fed in education, then see you students later. Trust me, it’s your loss. I’ve never been one to starve myself.

I will keep you posted on the job hunt.

Dear Fellow Adjunct

Dear Fellow Adjunct,

Hi, how is it going? We’ve been sharing an office space now for about 8 weeks and I just have a few words I’d like to share with you.

First off, you are quite nice. You’re clearly devoted to your work, and frankly, after the past few years of slowly becoming desensitized and burnt out, it’s quite refreshing to meet a young teacher like myself who cares. Who cares as much as I once did. 

I know we don’t know each other well. This, of course, is my fault. I am deliberately being cold and distant. Call me a bitch, although I haven’t been one to you, if you’d like. Honestly it is for your own good. It is clear, from the conversations we’ve been having that you think I’m friendly and want to be your friend. Why, yes I’d like that very much. You’re a sweet girl. We both share similar tastes in film, books, and clothes. We both are obsessed with same celebrities. Franky,I think we could have been good friends in another life. There is one thing though, that I must tell you.

Well, I don’t know how to say this without sounding horrible, but here it goes. I don’t want to hear you complain about your students. I’m tired of you reading crappy run-ons an fragments that your students write. Are you honestly surprised that your students perform this way? We aren’t at Harvard (oops the cat’s out the bag readers). We are at a mediocre school that sits on the outskirts of a city (I am being deliberately vague, readers).

Here’s why I don’t want to bitch with you about my students, because frankly it depresses me. There was once a time when I too, would have indulged in this complaining. I’m over it. No good comes from the whining and bitching. None. It only makes it more challenging to grade the papers.  I too have given them the key to writing brilliant paragraphs. I too have spent hours giving the m feedback they ignore. I understand your pain. I too was surprised when I first started teaching. The thing is I don’t want to bitch about it. In case you haven’t noticed, I always change the subject when you discuss your students. I’d rather talk about Malaria, or Darfur than your students and their inability to follow instructions.

So, while you’re lovely, no we can’t be Facebook friends. If you’ll notice, your reference to this possibility was ignored, as if I didn’t hear it. It’s not that I don’t like you. Maybe  in another life (maybe if we’d gone to grad school together and been TA friends), I would have befriended you and we could have been shopping buddies. Currently, we are co-workers, lowly adjuncts in a cruel cruel world. It’s depressing enough without the complaining.

As far as our relationship in the office is concerned, please do not  worry. We can be friends; well acquaintances. We can talk about anything you want–except teaching.

Please forgive me. I just can’t take it. I can’t take the complaining.

All the best,

One Mean MFA

p.s. I hope you don’t get burnt out as quickly as I did.

CV Building Via Conference

This year February has become the month of conferences. I’ll be presenting at a conference this weekend. I’ve presented at conferences before, but they were sponsored by the English department of my grad school and I knew pretty much knew everyone who attended. Does your English Department hold conferences for TA’s and other graduate students?  A lot of the GTA’s in my program, including myself,  used the conferences as a way to add lines on our CV’s. I think it’s a really effective way to make you look like you care about your field. It’s also great practice for conferences that make you nervous. What do you do to build your CV?

Since this is my first official conference, I’m a bit nervous. Generally, I don’t get nervous when it comes to public speaking, but I’m kind of freaking out about it.

My paper is almost finished–I know, nothing like the last-minute. I think it’s pretty decent. I’ll probably edit it when I get back, and make it sound less conferency, and more edgy and essay appropriate. I’ll then send it out to a gazillion magazines in hopes that someone will pick it up and publish the thing. Do you guys do that with your conference papers?

Well, I recently got an email from the director or coordinator of the conference asking me if he could share my email with my panel. The panel originally had three people on it, but one of them had to drop out, so it’s going to be me and another person. I’m kind of glad about this, because I’ll probably lengthen my essay a bit and go into more depth. At first, I was glad I’d let the director give out my email. The other panelist emailed me and it turned out he knew one of my professors from graduate school. “What a great way to network,” I thought to myself.

WHAT AT MISTAKE.

This panelist is email happy, and frankly is a little too excited about presenting this weekend. He must be tenured and have job security. What’s that like? He keeps emailing me nerdy jokes about our panel topic, but at least he doesn’t want a super structured discussion. I also think he and my connection to my former professor may come in handy. Afterall, it’s not what you, but who you know. 

Let me clarify, it’s not that I’m not excited, I am. Presenting at this conference has forced me to work on an essay that I’ve been drafting mentally for about a year. It’s also a networking opportunity and with the job market the way it is, I think I’ll be able to become more than just a CV to some of the schools I applied for full-time work at, (some) who will be at the conference. When the panelist mentioned he knew my professor, I thought “I should exploit this connection to get some job interviews.”

Maybe this line of thinking makes me a bad person, but I don’t think so. I mean aren’t we supposed to take advantage of opportunities that lead to our success? Wouldn’t you network? Frankly, I’m seriously considering bringing my CV to this conference and passing it out. I know it isn’t a job fair, but what if a department chair from my area is looking for a full-time instructor of Creative Writing? This whole conferencing thing makes me wish I had a business card. It may be a good investment.

In the end, all this conferencing has made me realize that I need to be way more aggressive with the job hunt and building my CV. Also, having to work on my own writing instead of focusing on my students has been really refreshing. Don’t you remember when I had my mental breakdown in October? I’m truly on a mission, and I think TC’s comments, AWP, and my being reminded why I write is helping.

Jon Stewart, Thank You

So last Thursday I had a complete mental breakdown. I was severely depressed and my anxiety was back in full swing.

I’ve been having anxiety attacks for about two months now, and the only thing that gets my heart rate down and my breathing caught up is yoga. I needed to relax and it was really good timing that I was going to D.C. for the Rally to Restore Sanity this past weekend. I needed to get the hell out of town and forget my adjuncting woes. Funny how a Rally to Restore Sanity was actually able to help me restore mine. Thanks Jon Stewart.

The Boyfriend was worried about me and admitted to me that I was driving him crazy with all my complaining. I still feel really bad about this. He told me I had been complaining for a while–like two months–and he couldn’t take it any more. I don’t ever want to drive anyone crazy, especially not someone who loves and cares about me. He’s a great listener and completely understands that I need to vent my frustrations.

We were sitting in his car and he asked me about what was bothering me and I told him about how I felt like my students were depleting my nutrients. I wasn’t getting anything back from them–no stimulating conversations, no laughing, no good quality writing. I was getting apathetic, glossy looks and mediocre work. I felt like they were taking everything I had and giving me nothing in return.

While teaching is one of those jobs, I found myself thinking I might need to find another career choice. I actually thought, “maybe teaching isn’t for me.” My whole life I’ve been so sure that I was born to teach. Yes, I thought it was going to music at first but teach nevertheless. This is my fourth year as a teacher, and I can’t believe I may actually be burning out. I’m not happy about this. Because the Boyfriend is very action oriented he helped talk me through what I needed to do change my situation. This last sentence makes it sounds like he was dictating to me what I needed to do, but it was more of a “what steps do you need to take to get where you want to be?” and “how are you going to take them?” and “what do you think your next move should be?” It wasn’t like, “Hey One Mean MFA, you should be doing this and this.” Neither of us do well with orders.

Anyway, after many tears and used up tissues, I decided that I needed to stop with the super teacher bull. Being a super teacher is NOT going to get me a tenure track position. Instead,  it will suck my time away from what is most important–my writing. So, I’m done getting papers back to them immediately. I’m done with all the caring, and going out of my way for them. Done. Done. Done.

I know this may sound incredibly selfish, and when I left for D.C. I wasn’t sure if I’d actually be able to pull it off when I came back. I have a tendency to say I’m going to do something (i.e. exercise) and then not. Although lately I’ve been good about actually doing what I’m saying. It’s the yoga, I think. It has seriously changed my life ( a yoga post to follow?).

It might be my first week back, but you want to know what people? For the first time in months–can you hear me out there?–months I actually sat down and did some writing. It felt great. Yes, I’m rusty. I’m hoping that maybe tomorrow I’ll even be sore. When I got back from work I got caught up in non-writing stuff and when I left for yoga I thought to myself, “you haven’t written one sentence.” Then I came back and took a pen to paper, which I later typed out since I do everything by hand–or at least start off by hand.

Also, the Boyfriend and I decided that I’m not going to talk about work, because the adjuncting thing is a side job. The writing is the real job. I haven’t really been talking about work. Usually I’m all–today my students did this or we were discussing that. Nope. No more. Maybe next week I’ll write even more. Regardless, it feels really good to have my f@$!ing priorities straight.

All of you out there? Have you done some writing today? If not, it’s cool, but what is holding you back?

Never Ending Stack of Papers

My girlfriend and I are going to be exchanging our writing at the end of next week and I haven’t had a minute to write a word because of all the paper grading. It’s mildly depressing to think that the only thing that will get me a professor job is publications and while I’m adjuncting I only have time to grade papers. It is the most vicious circle.

I’m getting a new stack on Monday–booooo.

I have even considered skipping my work outs to give myself an extra hour of grading. This morning, however, I woke up with my first panic attack in four years and am glad that I didn’t give up exercise. I’ve been struggling to catch my breath all morning.

The job application burden is also making it very difficult to breathe. Perhaps I need to pull an all nighter and get this shit done so I can stop worrying. Once the paper grading and job applications are out I’ll be able to breathe. I can definitely see an all nighter my future. Well, maybe not an all nighter maybe a stay up until 1ish and not have dinner with the boyfriend.

Blah.