Friday, December 12, 2014
The (Contingent)(Academic)(Teacher) in 2015
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).