University

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.

 

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.

The Adjunct Office or Should I Say Bitch Central?

Most schools provide their part-time faculty with a space to grade papers and check their emails. It’s not the most beautiful space–both of the schools that work at have offices for their adjuncts and both are located in the basement, in a corner where air circulation is something to be desired. Nevertheless, it’s better than no space and relegating part-time staff to the library for computer access.

I look forward to one day having an office that smells of old books and is decorated with cheesy English teacher posters. And while I pine for  this office, I’m still grateful to have a space I can sort of call my own. My issue however is not with the space. My issue is with the people who use the space.

A bunch of complainers they are. Oh my goodness. I get it, we all need to vent, but lord have mercy. This past semester I have learned about how lazy, undisciplined, and horrible the students are at the college. Bunch of no good….blah blah blah. All semester I have heard other instructors–some of them about 40 years older than me–talk about how in their day students were disciplined. Kids were better then. Teaching was a pleasure. Oh, shut it.

While I don’t deny that students, teaching, and, parents has evolved–or maybe regressed over the past few years, the student bashing is too much for me. I will not disagree that there are some real pains in the ass out there, many of them in my classroom. But overall, I don’t have horrible students. Of course this varies by semester, but I’ve had groups that were worse, and I anticipate that I will have better.

It seems that many of these instructors have lost touch with their students and perhaps that is in part because of their age, but I do think that mostly it’s because instead of trying to reach their students they bitch about them. How many of you have had instructors who were old–but hip? They are out there, and frankly those older hip professors often kick serious ass.

There are days when I get caught up in the complaining–I admit. On those days, I get upset with myself for being negative and complaining. It happens, I’m human. When I do complain, I do notice, that it makes the grading more difficult, and the work experience not so pleasant. I love to teach writing–I love it wholeheartedly.  That’s what I think is part of the problem. These complaining teachers have forgotten why they teach.

The crotchety, complaining, cranky professors (alliteration was totally intentional) are the worst. While I sit in the office and hear the complaining, I want to desperately shout–Enough! I do what my students do when they don’t want to listen, I pop in my headphones and pump up the volume on my iPod. Maybe I’m just as bad as to my colleagues as my students, but frankly I don’t care. Instead of complaining, I try to reach them and encourage them to be the best students possible, because in the end that’s all I can do. And I’m okay with that.

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?

The Four Day Rut

I have literally been in a foul mood for four days straight. I can’t explain why, it’s just been one of those weeks where I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. While I am prone to ruts, I have been since senior year of high school, this rut is one of the worst. It is reminiscent of my pre-depression days during undergrad.

Yes I do stress over things that I shouldn’t, but I don’t think this rut is being fueled by stress. My best friend and I have decided it’s a planetary issue. My rising sign is Virgo, and well I don’t think the planetary alignment and full moon are helping out. Although, if the planets aren’t to blame, I really don’t know what is.

The following are things that are bothering me:

1. I might have to move because the apartment complex I live in is raising its rates. That’s right in this economy where jobs are low, and prices are high the place that I live is raising its rate. How F#$@ed up is that? There is an upside to this, however. There is a neighborhood in the city that I live that I absolutely adore and it has affordable housing which is old and charming. Still moving is a pain in the ass and I’m not stoked about it.

2. No matter how hard I try I can’t get myself caught up in my grading. Currently, I have my phone on silent and I still managed to kill three hours in my car driving around to blow off some steam and consequentially wasted gas. Because I feel like I can’t get caught up I may give up a relaxing Saturday evening and grade. May being the key word in the previous sentence.

3. Because of my foul mood, the boyfriend and I got into a bit of a tif this morning and I feel terribly about it because it was my completely my fault. I’m an ass. No–and asshole.

4. The MLA job list has me worried about the future, which I cannot control and has me paranoid that I’m not good enough to be a professor and may need to invest more time and money into my education.

5. I miss my family so terribly. I want to visit them during my fall break but am not sure if I’ll be able to. Every Sunday when I’m alone in my apartment, I think about how I used to join them for mass and we’d have a traditional Italian meal. I miss it a lot. While I will acknowledge that being around them too much does bring on panic attacks–I have legitimate medical data to prove this–I still miss them.

As I write this list, I see how foolish it is that I’m upset and maybe a nice long jog or iPod dance party might help lift my spirits. More importantly, I need to stop procrastinating because that is what is causing all of this suffering. I love list making it always helps.

In It to Win It

Well, we’re slowly moving towards the middle of the semester.  My students have turned in their first papers and we are trucking through to the next. It is all happening so fast.

As you faithful readers know, I suck at making a schedule for myself. Well, nothing has changed so far. The only schedule I have been sticking to is my workout schedule. While I feel like this is a good start, I still need to get my teaching stuff in order–not having an office at work really blows–and desperately need a writing schedule.

I am thinking because I don’t have to be at work so early on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday that I will get my writing done in the mornings. This will enable me to start my day off completely focused on my career.

For those of you future MFA graduates, the time has come to start applying for professor jobs. As much as I hate job hunting it is so important that the cover letters and all that business gets done soon. I only have to update my CV and write a bunch of cover letters, but I’m ready. Nothing, besides myself, can stop me from getting a kick ass professor job for next fall. I’m so ready.

I think all the yoga I’ve been doing has really gotten me focused and has cleared my head of all the BS.

Well, I hope all of you out there are writing your little hearts out. Between this blog, my blogging project, and my own fiction, nonfiction and novel work I know I’m about saturated.

First Week of Classes Down–15 More to Go!

So this week began my journey as an adjunct instructor. So far, I’m liking it. I’m not digging the psuedo-office with two desks that I’m sure will aways be occupied–although the shared office at the other school I work for is a bit bigger I am sure it’s going to be a lot of the same. I’ll probably hold my office hours in a gazebos outdoors when the weather turns.

My second teaching job starts on Tuesday. I’m pretty stoked to be getting into the grove of it all.  On the first day, when I began my introductions and introduced myself as Ms. OneMean MFA, I realized how much I really love teaching. Even writing the syllabus, though tedious, felt good. Much better than answering the phone at the salon.

I’m so over that job and am quitting this week. I will NOT work three jobs, also my time is precious and I refuse to sit in a mall every evening when I could be getting my teacher work done and cooking delicious semi-gourmet meals for the boyfriend. I also really need to polish my thesis into a best seller novel and I can’t do that at the salon either.

As of now, I’m working 6 days a week, with only Sunday to get my teaching stuff done. That is just insane. I did not bust my ass in school, write a freakin’ novel, and get a master’s degree so I could work a minimum wage job. Although, I will miss the free hair services. Oh well.

This week I’ll be introducing a blogging project to my class which I have been brewing up for about a month. I so desperately want it to be a success. I also want my students to leave my class really digging the idea of having their own blog. I’m nervous about the logistics. I have about 90 students and I’ll need to monitor all of their blogs every week–hence why I need to quit the salon. Well, I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

Now instead of procrastinating, I need to be getting my teacher stuff done so that I get the semester started on the right foot. Right now, I’m already behind and dreading this last week at the salon. I so hope I don’t burn any bridges by quitting. I just don’t want to over stretch myself, plus I can’t network in the academic world if I’m at the mall. Plus, yesterday while I was on break I made a ridiculous impulse purchase–which I’m not really one to do but have on occasion brought home shoes, dresses, and jewelery that I don’t need–I am not returning it, though I debated. I’ve decided it will be a fantastic addition to my new professional wardrobe. I do after all have to look great.

Well, I’m going to focus.

Oh man I love this time of year!