tenure track

The Sunnier Side

sky-1365325_1920

As is always the case with this space I’ve created, it’s been too long since I posted. It’s always in the back of my mind to come back here and vent, but then life gets in the way and I’m banging out pages for short story, an essay, or my memoir and this lovely place gets put on the back burner.

While it’s the middle of October–how the hell did that happen by the way–a lot has happened since my last post which was over a year ago.

In the fall of 2016, I hit the academic market hard. I was still restricted by geography and working full time at the high school, trying to get stuff published, being a mother, trying to be a decent spouse all took its toll. I had one interview, and it did not end with me getting the job.

Another major event happened, I left my high school teaching job at the behest of my wonderful husband. I was reminded with an ever-clear action that I was not respected or valued despite my students having increased their test scores–the only thing that matters in education right now–being nominated for teacher of the year, having high marks on my evaluations, and staying 3 hours past my contractual obligation to write engaging lesson plans that were proving to be effective to students in both affluent and not-so-affluent home. Yes, I’m tooting my horn because I was a damn-good high school English teacher. Damn good.

So after some shit hit the fan, I went home in tears. My husband gulped me up in his arms and said these magic words: Why don’t you leave?

I had been at this job for five years and had some hard times, which is the case at any job in any industry in any place, there were also fleeting moments of joy, and I really loved the folks I shared a hallway with. They made the daily shitstorm bearable. We talk and talked and when it came time to give the school my 30 days, I decided it was what was best and my husband agreed.

For the first time in my life, I am not in the classroom at 11 a.m. during a weekday. At some point for the past three decades, I have either been a student or teacher in a classroom. This August came and went and my time was spent (gulp) writing.

While I miss some elements of the classroom, I don’t miss any of them enough (yet) to warrant a return. And with things being up in the air with my husband’s career, for the first time since I graduated with M.F.A., geography may not be an issue.

So, for the past month, I’ve begun to hit the academic market even harder. I’m no longer limited to a commuting distance. Now, I’m looking at places all over the country. I can actually see it happening now. The dream. It feels so much more real. More tangible than ever.

In the past, I’ve been known to get my hopes too high. I will apply for the job and suddenly my mind has decorated my office, my work wardrobe for the next year is planned, I can see my name on the door. I’m doing a lecture at this college and walking my jolly-tenured ass to class. I’ve planned which audiobooks I’ll listen to in the car on my drive to work. This makes those rejection emails so much more painful. How can they not hire me? Don’t they know my nameplate is already on the door in the English department building?

While I still let my hopes run wild because if anything I’m an idealist, I’m trying to temper the decorating and audiobook planning. I have looked on Realtor.com and Zillow.com to see what the housing markets look like in the neighborhoods of the colleges I’m applying for, but I’m totally justifying this by thinking it be smart to have an idea of where my kiddo might start kindergarten.

In addition to hitting the academic market hard, I’m also looking for non-teaching jobs in my area because–money. We need money. Those student loans won’t be paying themselves off neither will our mortgage. That too has been frustrating because I’m over-qualified with no experience outside of teaching. I have faith something will happen and if doesn’t maybe the book I’m writing will be the silver bullet to our “good debts.” I told you I was an idealist.

I started somewhere with this post and now I don’t know how I ended up where I’m about to but whatever.

I will close by saying I know how f***ing lucky I am to have a spouse that can support our family financially while I spend my days writing and job hunting. I’m lucky my husband isn’t an asshole who holds this over my head. I know I’m blessed that he understands my happiness is just as valid as his and his support means I’m able to pursue my art.

When I decided to leave the classroom for the world of the starving artist who isn’t starving because she’s married, I told him I felt guilty because had we not been married and in the situation we are in, I would have to just suck it up and keep teaching high school. If I were single, I’d still be in the classroom not having time to work on my book and look for jobs in academia. Was my depending on him for money, anti-feminist? Was I hurting my gender with this decision? Should I try to keep doing what I was doing? Shouldn’t I be able to hold down a full-time teaching job while looking for one, be a decent mother and spouse, and still find time to write because it was important to me? Don’t people do that?

This is when I realized my problem. I have been comparing my journey to wherever the hell I’m going with others. I don’t know how those professors listed on those English department pages got to the point where they were the one selected by the committee. Their struggle was different mine, and I really needed to stop worrying about everyone else. Everyone gets to where they are going in their own way. The stops are going to be different, the type of snack they stop for is going to be different. The road bumps that will affect their ride will be different. Maybe there are some folks who are able to do it all, but I’m not one of them.

Last May I was in a dark place. I had reached the same weight I was when I was 6 months pregnant except I was sans baby. I was struggling to enjoy time with my husband. Most evenings were spent with us on separate ends of the couch joylessly watching TV then crawling into bed. I was pulling into the parking lot at work and sitting in my car trying to hold back tears of sorrow and pain because I was giving all of myself and not feeling valued. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t exercising. I don’t know if this is what depression looks like because I’ve never been diagnosed with it, but I definitely felt like shit.

Flashforward to today, things are way better with my husband, I’ve been writing every day. I have finished a few books–nothing to write home about but reading is reading–and I’ve lost some weight. I feel great, and I’m scared.

Every morning for the past couple of months, I’ve been waking up early and working in my office on my memoir, job documents (one of these days I’ll post about the ridiculousness of those documents), and job applications. I’ve been exercising and have even taken to mid-day walks which do not count as my workout but do amount to one of my favorite times of the day.

I can’t lie and say life is great. It’s better. I’m still scared as hell because I don’t know if this risk of losing my full-time job with summers off and benefits is going to pay off with my getting my memoir published and my achieving my end goal of being a writer with a tenure-track job, but it’s sunnier over here, so for now, I’ll take it.

 

Advertisements

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.

 

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.