tenured 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.

 

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I Am Pond Scum

This afternoon my best friend called me . I hadn’t heard from her in a while, and was actually starting to get worried about her, but of course she’s just fine. We’re the type of friends who can go months without speaking and then pick up a conversation right where we left off. She and I are one soul separated into two bodies. She is definitely the more spontaneous one, but I too go through phases of impulse and seclusion the way she does. The reason we’ve been friends for as long as we have is because we’re able to see and understand each other so thoroughly. She can hear things in my voice, and see things in my face that no one else can.  Today she told me I sounded unhappy on the phone which made me even more sad, than apparently I already am.

I do feel like I haven’t been completely satisfied with my life, but I think things could be a lot worse. The economy has played a huge role in my dissatisfaction. The thing is, I feel like I’m lucky. I can still afford to put gas in my car and have cable, internet, and food in my fridge. It could be worse. Still, I’m not happy. Although maybe I’m not “burning the midnight oil” enough. Tonight after I turned off the TV, I thought, “you should stop watching all of this television.” I really should. Although, I don’t think I watch that much TV; I think everyone can watch less.

She told me I sounded unhappy with my work.

My whole life I knew I was going to be a teacher. Yeah, I started college with the idea of becoming a doctor, only because I thought that was what my parents wanted. My undergraduate degree was very expensive, and my parents definitely didn’t encourage me to go into education. They said it was stupid to go to school for teaching and then graduate with students loans. Maybe they were right.

My mother still doesn’t understand why I got an MFA in writing. “You should’ve gotten an MBA, now that’s a useful master’s degree.”

The fact that I could give two shits about the business world is meaningless.

“You know, you could have been a nurse, you had all the credits. Didn’t you finish a minor in science?”

I have minors in chemistry, biology, and sociology. (I’m a nerd. What can I say? There is not a subject offered that I won’t attempt.)

My dissatisfaction is not with teaching. I don’t think. I mean I like teaching, don’t get me wrong. I just think that I’m not happy at the schools that I teach at. I teach too many sections and don’t make enough money. I give my students too much work, and teach courses that don’t give me any pleasure. I feel like I went to school for a useless degree and may end up stuck an adjunct for God knows how long.

I’ve been applying for jobs outside of education. It’s daunting. My cover letter is terrible. I apply for copywriter jobs, editing jobs, and have no journalism experience. My cover letter, I feel, sounds desperate. It essentially suggests that I use the same skills as a teacher, that I would as a copyeditor. Wouldn’t I? In the end, (I told this to my BFF as well), whether I get a full time job as a professor or a copyeditor it will boil down on an employer being willing to take a chance on me.

Take. A. Chance. On. Me. (I hope you’re singing ABBA)

These past two semesters working as a part-time slave, I’ve really been questioning what I want to do. I just don’t know. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. What the hell is my problem?

My department chair told me the other day that he wasn’t sure what the funding was going to look like for the fall. Meaning: you may not get as many sections as you’re hoping for–if any.

Panic.

I guess I should have applied for those Ph.D. programs.

My best friend suggested that maybe I was destined to be a stay at home mother.

What?

And not work?

I always envisioned myself as a career woman who was a mother on the side. I would come home from work in my fabulous heels and a briefcase and then get dinner started…the way my mother did. I always wanted to have a career. Now, here I am, seven years of fucking higher education and I’m no where near a career.

I’m pond scum.

Who knows, maybe I am depressed and I don’t even know it. Maybe that’s what’s making writing so damn hard. Maybe, it’s the depression that’s making the wedding planning so challenging and the job hunt so weary.

Or.

Maybe, I need to stop being a Debbie Downer, or Negative Nancy and fight until I get what I want.

A goddamn tenure track position.

 

 

Why Adjuncts Struggle to Break Free

I’ve been part-time teaching at two schools this semester and have been trying to figure out why my grad school professors warned us not be adjuncts. Well, today as I started grading a stack of papers that has recently dwindled from 110 to 90 papers, I now understand my professors’ advice.

In order to live comfortably as an adjunct you must teach at least four to five sections. These sections usually include at least 20 students which means come paper time you’ve got at least 100 papers to grade and comment on. While you’re grading papers and teaching 5 sections, full-time professors are teaching 3 sections, not worrying about money, and working on publications. That’s right, they are writing and focused on their careers, while the only writing you’re doing is the writing on student papers.

Recently a girlfriend of mine, who also has her MFA and was an adjunct for a while and is now a full-time instructor, called me. We spoke at length about focusing on our writing versus our students. She and I are tired of being super teacher. Being super teachers is not going to get us a tenure track jobs. This has always been my goal, and has recently become hers as well.

So, what have we decided to do to brighten our futures? The fifth of every month we will be emailing each other our writing. I’m working on perfecting my novel by adding some sections and lengthening the sections I have, and she wants to pump out some short stories. We attempted to establish some kind of consequence for not doing the writing, but decided that we weren’t afraid of each other so we established a reward instead. When we send each other our work, we will also send each other a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble.

Our first exchange will occur on the 5th of November, and I’m eager to have a deadline and someone I trust to give me feedback. I’m hoping that this exchange will enable us both to see our work published and lead us towards being tenured professors.

In the end, what it all boils down to is worrying about yourself. In this competitive society, it is necessary to focus on you. It sounds narcissistic and selfish but I don’t really care, I’m in it to win it and if you’re an adjunct who is a super teacher, you should consider focusing on yourself even if it is brief. We must stop feeling guilty if we don’t our students their papers back immediately. Those things can wait–your career can’t.

Are there any super-teachers out there that agree with me? What about those of you who don’t? Why not focus on my own writing versus the writing of my students? Am I horrible person for thinking this way?