professors

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.

 

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.

Hydration is Key

So last week was my first week with the dietician and the new eating plan. It isn’t really different from how I was eating. It only encourages way more vegetables and a lot less fat. Very logical.

The one thing that has been an adjustment is the amount of water I’ve been asked to consume. My dietician has asked me to drink 9 cups of water. This is equivalent to about three medium-sized water bottles. It may not seem a lot for all you hydrated people out there, but it is a lot for me. I hate drinking water. I never think to do it, and because I have a peanut-sized bladder I oftentimes chose not to drink it.

So last week I started drinking nine cups of water. It was a challenge the first day, and I’m one day from being done with week two on this plan, and I’m still struggling. I will say that I did notice a difference in my body and its general performance within three days of drinking all this water.

I felt reborn. I was all, O. M.G., FH I’m a walking metaphor. I’m all reborn.

I’m just kidding readers, I don’t actually talk like that. Hahaha.

My week starts on Saturday (which is great because the weekend and being home is always bad for my eating habits). On Monday of week one, I was a productive machine. I had graded an absurd amount of papers, created an awesome activity (more on this later), did some hardcore wedding planning, and busted ass in the gym. 

I felt–feel amazing.

When asked if I need to coffee to function (literally to breathe and be alive), I almost always respond with a big caffeinated yes!, but last week my one cup of joe in the morning was more than enough to get me going. In fact, it was more for pleasure that it was anything else.

So aside for being super productive at work and with the wedding plans, I read two books in two weeks, and am almost done with my third.

Who

Am

I

?

As far as the eating has been going, I think I did okay this week. Not as good as week one, but definitely hitting my calorie marks and I added an extra day of working out. Seriously, go me.

You’re probably thinking, oh my goodness One Mean MFA, you’ve been kicking ass and taking names.

Well readers, you’re right. I have been. But that’s not all (for 4 easy payments of $19.99–sorry I couldn’t help myself), I started work on the memoir.

I know.

Ridiculous. 

 A lot of the world’s problems could be solved if people would just be hydrated.

I hope week three is even more awesome.

The Whites of Your Eyes

I’ve been trying really hard not vent about my students because I don’t want to let their idiocy get to me. However, I cannot contain these thoughts for much longer and so I present an open letter.

Dearest Students Who-sit-in-the-front-then-don’t-pay-attention-and/or-roll-their-eyes-while-I-give-instruction,

Oh what’s that, you didn’t think I noticed? I notice every movement. I notice how you don’t sit up straight or take notes, how you text during my instruction. I also notice when you roll your eyes when I speak.. That’s right, I can see the whites of your eyes. It is quite unbecoming.

I should mention your not paying attention and your constant questioning of my teaching methods is getting old. I understand that you’ve repeated this class and that your previous teacher taught this content differently, and according to you was much better than me. The thing is, I don’t care. You are in my class, and I’m asking for something different. By the way the withdrawal period hasn’t passed, you can still opt out. But if you decided to stick out with me, how about to avoid taking this class again you humor me? Higher education is simply lessons in jumping through hoops. Get over yourself.  Also, you’re in this class again for a reason.

Think about it.

Also, when you question what I’m looking for, or ignore me and then your writing does not contain it, how do you think you’re going to do in this class? Do you actually expect to pass? Suggesting and confronting me by telling me you write all the time, and are a “good” writer is not enough to get the grade. You actually have to be a good writer.

Just in case you weren’t sure, that’s what I effing teach!

So, as I grade your essay that is spiteful and terrible, frankly, I want you to think about the less that stellar grade you’ve earned.

Since you have one more paper to redeem yourself, how about you check you G-D attitude and ego out the door.

I’m teaching this class (partly because the department didn’t have any literature or creative writing sections to give me) because I have the specialization and nearly a decade of education.

Shut your freakin’ trap, open your ears, and for God’s sake stop rolling your eyes.

Thanks.

Sincerely,

One MEAN (and angry)  M.F.A.

Makin’ Copies (SNL style)

I don’t usually post twice in one day, but what I’m witnessing right now is too hilarious not to share. Not to mention if I don’t tell someone what I’m seeing I might explode.

The adjunct office where I work has a brand new photo copy machine. It’s so beautiful. It makes copies quickly and can do all kinds of neat tricks.

Currently, one of the faculty members is trying to make copies. She is a sweet lady, who speaks hardly any English. She also has no idea how to use the copy machine.

When first came into the office to make copies this afternoon, she accidentally told the machine to make too many copies. She stood in front of the machine while it made at least 30 more copies than she needed. She mumbled to herself in her native tongue, and pushed practically every button on the machine.

She continues to make copies, but isn’t clearing the previous job so she keeps making too many copies. She pushes the delicate buttons on the machine with such force. No wonder the machine is retaliating and making extra copies.  This is hilarious, because the department keeps complaining that there is never enough paper in the machine.

There are signs all over the copy machine that tell the faculty to send big copying projects to the print shop and not use up all the paper in the machine. The signs were printed on a dark red paper. They are taped to the trays that hold the paper, the front the copy machine, the wall directly in front of the copy machine, and on the laser printer tray.

This is why I use Blackboard. I hardly ever make copies and it makes my life so easy. I also feel like I’m helping Mother Earth. Recently, I was discussing my love of Blackboard and how it was environmentally friendly and my coworker (an older, very conservative member of the faculty) stated that online posts and being paperless wasn’t environmentally better because of the energy output to post work online. I had to refrain from dying of laughter), but I digress.

Anyway, I feel bad for this lady making copies. I think she’s finally figured out the machine.

Nope just kidding. The machine is now misfeeding and it’s out of paper. She is taking the paper out of the printer tray–hence the reason for the red signs.

Maybe I should stop writing about this, and help this woman out.

This is why there is a room reserved in hell for me.

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.

Am I a Bad Teacher?

This week was one of those weeks of teaching that reminds you to keep your priorities straight. Too keep pumping out writing. It reminded me why I need to revise my novel, and why I need more publications. There were a few incidents this week. I’m relieved that I was able to take Wednesday through Friday off because I don’t think I would have been able to handle another one this week without losing my cool and my job.

Incident Number One

I had arrived early and was setting up. One of my students came in and sat down.

“Miss, I’m so lost. Have we turned anything in? Have we done anything in this class?”

I looked up. I absolutely suck at containing my emotions; it is why I will never be a poker champion or spy.

“Uhhh, yeah.”

The students are working on a research paper and have turned in two annotated bibliographies, and a proposal. They also have had two class discussions on-line.

“I’m just so lost.”

“Well, see me after class.”

Once class got going, I had to explain, for the one millionth time, how to upload documents and assignments via Blackboard.

“Miss, I’m just so confused.” This same student said. I think he was trying to get the other students to say the same thing, but they were all quiet. “I’ve been confused since we started.”

We’re ten weeks into the semester.

“Well, oftentimes when students are confused they come to office hours, or email me.”

“Miss, I’m too busy to hunt you down.”

“Well then you’ve clearly indicated where your priorities lie. So…”

“Miss, you need to stop. We need to stop having this conversation because you’re being sassy.”

That’s right folks, he said I was being sassy.

I simply plowed through the lesson and was relieved that FH had Oreos at his house when I got there.

As I type out this minor incident, I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal, I guess, I was just irritated that a student could be so disrespectful. That was of course until the next day.

Incident Number Two

So, currently, in one of my classes, we are reading 1984. The class is a remedial type course where students are retaught or taught how to develop their ideas into papers. They are also required to read a novel to work on their reading skills.

Well, after passing out their reading quiz my students informed me they hadn’t read far enough into the novel to answer the questions on the quiz. Mind you, the reading schedule for the book is on the syllabus that I handed to them day one of classes.

Since, I strive to be a hard-ass I made the students take the quiz anyway. They should have read. I will also be counting the grades–or should I say zeros–for the quiz. I was so disappointed in them. Anyway, while we were grading them (I let the students switch papers and grade them) one of my students proceeded to tell me that I was being unfair in accepting a certain and answer for question 1 and then not accepting her wrong answer for question 5. She was irate and shouting.

“That’s just ridiculous. I mean come on.” She shouted.

When I gave the students a break, she and her friend who had told me to shut up earlier in the class period, did not return.

Good riddance.

Incident Number Three

When teaching 1984, I think it’s important to give the students some political and historical background on what is happening in Orwell’s world and what he’s responding to. On a side note: my best friend is a history teacher and she always says that English teachers are frustrated history teachers. I feel like this is so true, but I digress.

So after telling the students when Orwell published his novel, I asked them about world events. They said World War II. I was thrilled.

“Can anyone tell me when WWII occurred?”

Crickets.

“Okay, can anyone tell me what happened during World War II?”

“Soldiers died,” a student whispered.

“Of course, it was a war.”

“Okay, can anyone tell me about Hitler?”

“He was bad?”

“Does the word Holocaust ring a bell?”

“Sort of.”

I stood there trying not look stunned.

“Guys, this is considered common knowledge.”

“Well, no one ever taught me that,” a student said with force.

I stared at them and after giving them a brief history lesson that would have probably been appalling to any good history teacher, I let the information sink in.

After visiting DC and spending a good three hours at the Holocaust Museum, I was shocked that my students were so clueless. That they were unable to discuss one of the more horrific moments of human history. I couldn’t understand how they had gotten this far through life, into COLLEGE and not known about World War II. Then, they had the balls to tell me they’d never been taught about the Holocaust. Could it be true? Also, was I expected, required to teach it to them?

They were living proof of the world Orwell created in his novel. I neglected to tell them this.

Apparently after class, some of my students emailed my boss and told her that that I had been insensitive and harsh in expecting them to know about World War II. Was I? They claimed it was insensitive of me to make comments like that since some of them hadn’t been in school in a very long time. Should I not have made the “common knowledge”comment?

So why teach?

This week, I have been asking myself this question repeatedly. I even applied for an unpaid internship at a magazine because lately I’ve been so tired of teaching. Both of my parents are teachers. They both love teaching the students who dislike school and learning. They like the troubled students who talk back, and they are great with them. I, on the other hand, don’t like these students. In fact, the past three semesters I haven’t gotten much pleasure from teaching and I’m starting to question if I’m even cut out for it.

Maybe I’m just not teacher material. Maybe, I do, in fact, suck at teaching?

This week I’ve done some soul searching and well I still don’t have the answer. This week I was told I was sassy, was told to shut-up, and was told I was insensitive and expected too much from my students. Well fuck.

When I expressed this concern with my parents, my mother said, well what else can you do, if you’re not teaching? I don’t know, but there has be something better for me out there.

Right?