Tuesday, February 10, 2015

of what benefit

When I found out that my health insurance would continue, and not get cancelled like it does every year in January, I was not only happy, but lightheaded, maybe even a little silly, and relieved. In fact it made me feel like maybe I am a real person. A person in the world with a job, and benefits, and a profession. That was short-lived. It turns out that the benefits were cancelled. The health insurance, the dental, the contribution that the institution puts toward retirement. I am trying to argue to have it reinstated, but with the institution there is little logic nor concern for real individuals’ issues. And in the end it is my fault, apparently. I should have known about the language in the bargaining agreement that said my coverage would continue if I averaged a 50% workload appointment over the academic year. I had originally thought I had to maintain a minimum of 50% each semester, but instead it is possible to have a continuation of benefits approved if one works 75% or more in the fall, and 25% in the winter. In the fall I had a total of 133% workload appointments across the institution, in three departments. Still, that one employer sends me one check via one human resources office every month. So I would argue I worked more than enough to average (leverage) benefits.

In fact, the system is set up to be impossible. I could have worked more hours in the fall semester (in addition to the 133%, I also had two more appointments at another institution and could maybe have had more). But in December, I didn’t know if I would have enough work come January to pay my bills and keep money in the bank to pay for the summer of reduced or no work at all. And so at this moment I have no health insurance. Again. And if it isn’t reinstated, I will become depressed. Again. Depression has become a cycle of abuse in my psyche for so long, only recently have I been able to forcefully target and overcome it when it takes over. This system of abuse that I have put myself into, this life of contingent academic employment takes a toll on my mental and physical health.

Last fall, I had a job interview for a full-time teaching position. I screwed it up. I didn’t get the job. Apparently I didn’t even get a second interview. I don’t think they believed that I am dedicated to teaching. They thought I was being utopic in my philosophy of getting to know students (“how many students do you think we have in our classes here?” one of them asked, like I am some privileged person teaching three classes of 12 students so I can get to know them all, when in fact I teach multiple classes of 25 students and do in fact get to know most of them, every semester). I talked about what I enjoyed about working with the students at that college, where I had worked previously, but I didn’t spend any time explaining in detail why I wanted that job, why I wanted to work at that place, why I want to continue teaching instead of quitting to go to work doing something else. Maybe they think, delusionally, the way that people seem to keep thinking, that I won’t want that job when I get a fancy teaching job somewhere else. But there are few to no jobs, not teaching college English classes full-time, not any more. I will have to quit teaching before I ever get a full time job, fancy or otherwise. Failing to land that job sent me into a chronic fit of cranky and depressed, probably for a few months.

A few years ago I also failed at getting the full-time job I interviewed for, teaching at a place where I now still teach part-time, the sting of which lingers just under my skin, and occasionally bubbles to the surface. In many ways that was a crappy job, with low pay and high teaching load. It would have been tons better than what I am doing now. Last year I worked my butt off at that (part-time) job with students, for students, and have gotten nothing in return. Of course I have gained the personal learning and enlightenment that comes with every class that I teach. I also had some of the same students in successive classes over that year, and got to work with some students later in their college careers who were, and are, amazing students and people. I have also learned a lot, and met a lot of people, through my experiences teaching at so many different schools. I enjoy learning new things and thinking about possibility. But the tradeoff is the stress, low pay, and lack of professional respect (mostly from institutions, sometimes from individuals). The stress of the tradeoff in trying to continuously maintain three jobs with no security and the fluctuating promise benefits may be too much greater than the possibilities for learning and experience. This is the conversation I have with myself regularly. And I play every role in the dialogue.

To find out more about this mini-essay project see the Introduction:The (Contingent)(Academic)(Teacher) in 2015