Sunday, December 21, 2014


It is at this time of year that I think I should find something else to do. One might assume that is because at this time of year, at the end of the fall semester especially, it seems impossible (overwhelming, exhausting, etc…) to read and grade final assignments and to assign and upload official end of semester grades. It seems more impossible when one has to do that for seven classes. Indeed, I am in denial of a major panic attack at this very moment. But, in fact, it is at this moment that instead of doing final grading—in time, before the deadline, after which  institutions shut off the option for any final grade entry in the computer and one has to show up in person and file the grades by hand—at this moment I am sending out job applications for jobs that do not involve teaching. At this time of year I see the very real possibility of having too little work to support myself come January. The planning for winter semester always happens optimistically early in the fall semester, sometimes earlier. I get scheduled for classes, and then imagine that more classes will become available as the winter approaches, though, the last few winter semesters, the opposite happens. One semester I was entirely left off the schedule and only miraculously was found some classes at the last minute. Other semesters, sections that I was scheduled for didn’t enroll fully enough and were cancelled. Teaching seven classes in the fall isn’t about raking in money because it’s available for the taking. It’s about having to survive and pay bills for the rest of the year that is not Sept.-Dec. If I keep doing this, I think, should I take eight sections next fall? Or, I wonder, can I sit in an office from 8-5 every day, including during all of the summer? And how might I enjoy doing work that doesn’t involve teaching, or reading and learning about texts and ideas, or having conversations with students about texts, ideas, and the world? I wonder how I will do work that doesn’t include watching students learn and grow and mature, and learning about how interesting they are as writers and as people. I am sure there is other work in the world that I might find fulfilling. But I have been teaching since 1994, and so I also think about why I have to give up doing something that I enjoy, something that I am good at, something that benefits so many students, something that is supposed to be of value in the world. I can see the ways in which so many students learn and benefit from the classes that I help facilitate. I say help and facilitate because I have learned, and am still learning, how students make and do a class. I organize and schedule and give assignments and facilitate conversations and activities. But I have to open the space so that students can engage, participate, and make the class what it will become. Some classes become more than others. And some students get more out of the classes than other students get. But at the end of every semester I see how much we have all done, how far we have all come since the beginning. This semester I received some extended thanks, in person and in writing, from at least two students. But regardless of the explicit, the implicit and fulfilling happens when I read their final papers and projects; when I see in their written reflections, in their own words, what they have done over the course of the semester; when I remember how I didn’t know anything about any of them on the first day and how much more we all know now about each other and about the ideas we have shared over the past weeks. One challenging aspect of teaching so many sections is that it takes longer to learn students’ names and get to know them as people. And I think about how many fewer people I will know and learn from when I have to give this up to go do something else. In the middle of any semester, the teaching becomes challenging. Students get tired, they stop reading, they slack on assignments. But that is part of the process of learning and critical thinking. And by the end of the semester, things like these happen:

Small Steps Creating Big Impacts
A Study in Hope
Women in STEM
America – Creating a Better Country for All
Civic Engagement
Organ Donation 

Social Change in the Present 

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Writing and Publishing

I want to stop writing. It is like quitting smoking. I should stop. It is getting me nowhere. It may be bad for my health—not the writing so much as the trying to write, the trying to publish and failing, the emotional toil of dealing with the rejection, the extreme emotional toil of dealing with the rejection which signals that I will not become “professional” as a writer, that the kind of professional work I want to do (academic/teaching) I cannot do professionally without the right kinds and numbers of publications. And so giving up writing is, in a way, giving up the academic professional pursuit, which in some ways would be better for my health. Pursuing writing and publication in the hope of a full time academic, teaching job entails stress, self-annihilation, emotional destruction, critique, and devaluing of anything that is good about oneself. Instead, I have come to focus on the symbolism (everything bad) that comes with each rejection. I am talking about creative work (poems, creative essays, weird short fiction) as well as academic writing (critical essays on any variety of mainly contemporary writing topics). The academic rejections are easier to take—maybe because I haven’t been doing that kind of writing for as long as the creative, and haven’t sent/had rejected as much, and have internalized my own inadequacies as an academic (writer). But when one has been a “creative writer” for so long, and so much work is consistently rejected, one has to start to question the point of doing it at all, let alone continuing to send it out for inevitable rejection. Even when one know the editors of a journal from grad school, and still one’s work is rejected there, then it must begin to become clear that there is so much writing in the world that is better, smarter, more clever, more stylistically brilliant than one’s own. A real writer might argue that writing, and process, and the experience of writing are important, and publishing should not be the focus. But not having time to make brilliant writing is a stress that I wonder would be better just let go.

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

The (Contingent)(Academic)(Teacher) in 2015

The Introduction:

I would like to pursue a series of mini-essays, each on a topic of interest to me, and maybe of interest to others. We are teachers who have become emotionally (and maybe physically) battered by the destruction of the educational system in general, and the dismantling of academia and the college/university system in particular. In more particulars, there is continually reduced interest in the importance of education as a value and little (to no) investment in teachers who are invested in offering kinds of comprehensive and quality educational opportunities to their students. At the college/university level, full-time work is farmed out to increasing numbers of part-time instructors. 

In the fall of 2014 I agreed to teach seven courses at three different schools (well, two of the schools are U of M and so share some resources, which made the extra jobs a bit more manageable) which in all reality is not actually possible. Or, well, it is possible because I did it. And I honestly don’t think I had to let too much of my own teaching philosophy and work ethic go to the wayside in order to manage that workload; though of course I have often had to work 60+ hour weeks in order to manage it. Part of me believes I should have put more of my pedagogy and work ethic aside in order to feel like a regular, professional, working person instead of trying to kill myself. The payoff is that this year (2014) I will make around $40,000 (when I do the tax return, I am estimating, but since I don’t have a salary and I try to calculate, I never really know how it all works out until I do the taxes). That sounds better than the horror stories you read about in the national news about “adjuncts” making poverty wages. But I will add here that the tenure-line faculty at two of the places I work, teaching the same classes, teaching two or three or four sections each semester, make $60,000-$70,000 or more, per year. And they have benefits which include job security (they know which and how many classes they will teach each semester), health and retirement, and also some kind of insurance I had never thought about that people have with full-time, benefits jobs: if you have to stop working for health or other reasons it offers you financial support (this is in place of, or in addition to, social security, or disability insurance which you may or may not be entitled to depending on the reason one is unable to work). 

I am also a creative writer. I have an MFA in creative writing as well as a Ph.D. in literature. I have had little success getting enough “nationally recognized” publications to be considered for full time creative writing teaching jobs. I am finding that everyone publishing now is super brilliant, and I have less and less time to work on writing in ways that would also make it (or me) super brilliant. Sometimes though what is published is the opposite of brilliant, and then I think there is the luck of the draw, or some other factors involved in publishing. I also do more experimental and innovative kinds of work in my writing. You may see some of that on this blog too. But when I am teaching seven classes, I don’t have time or interest in writing. And when nothing is getting published, I figure I am not any good at that anyway and so maybe I should just give it up and make my life easier… but this is yet another continuing conversation/debate I have in my head on a regular basis.

I also endeavor to professionalize in various ways, in order to maybe one day actually be offered a full-time teaching job. I submit all kinds of writing (academic and creative) for publication, I go to conferences, I try and read new things in my field(s). But I have many fields. The creative writing. The teaching and pedagogy in composition and rhetoric. The fringe fantasy of publishing about, and ever teaching, literature. There is no way to keep up on any of these individually, let alone all of them. But what I have learned from sending many job applications and getting few to no interviews, is that my 15+ years of teaching experience doesn’t mean as much as having publications. Maybe there are other factors. The point is that this world of teaching and writing is an apocalyptic one. These being the things that I do, and really the only things that I do well, point to my professional life as also a complete disaster. 

I can find some personal and spiritual satisfaction knowing that I have affected many students in their educational lives, and I have seen them grow and learn and develop as writers and thinkers, and as people. And because I mostly have taught at places where many students are working, and coming from working class backgrounds, I feel like teaching is a further way to practice my philosophical and social engagement in the world around me. Nonetheless, this situation goes well beyond a “love of teaching” which many argue is why people like me are doing this contingent life/work (lack of) balance. I am disrespected by these institutions exploiting my labor and time. And the students are shafted out of a better quality education for which they pay large money in their tuition dollars. The dollars don’t go into classrooms and teaching faculty. The dollars seem to go everywhere else instead.

These are the things that I think about continuously, on a daily basis, while I also wonder what I have done so wrong in my professional life to have come to this place. And I wonder what kind of a world we are now living in, in which education is in so much freefall and implosion. That doesn’t even make sense (the words) because it has become impossible to comprehend (the idea).