Friday, July 31, 2015

I Am Tired Just Thinking About It

The last day of July. Sometimes when August happens, I panic. But I think I have already been panicking. Lately. Maybe all summer. Let me be clear: I have no reason to panic, about anything. I work. I have money. I pay my bills. I have some cash in the savings and occasionally put some into retirement accounts that I have set up myself. I own a house. I have a loving if high-maintenance dog. I have an excellent and supportive domestic partner. Although I have spent a lot lot of time working this summer (on writing and professional development, mostly unpaid, and some union work), for the most part my schedule is my own and it is flexible. 

I am or will panic because I am not ready to go back to teaching full time in the fall semester. I say full time, but really I will be working more than a full time teaching load at three campuses. I will have five classes as it now seems, though the final details are still working out. Some people freak out about doing four classes at one time, at one place. Last year in the fall semester, I had seven. I am feeling especially grateful that I don’t have to do that again. I’m not even sure I could. I already feel exhausted just thinking about it. I was trying to consider teaching only four at two campuses this fall. It would be financially possible. But the numbers on paper are not the same as when they come in the check, after taxes. The bills that I have to pay don’t give discounts because I lost 30% of my check to taxes. When I say I am making 35k or 40k per year, I really mean it’s only about 20k or 25k or whatever is about a third less. And now, electricity costs more, groceries cost more, and my partner and I are trying to buy a different house and also put money into retirement. But I am made to feel like I should be grateful to earn 30k. That money in a retirement account is a privilege and a luxury. I have to get special permission to teach an extra class even though the full time load for part-time instructors doesn’t actually pay a professional full-time salary. I am supposed to dedicate my full time working hours but the institution won’t actually pay me a proper full time salary. I would like to quit the third job, but the two campuses of the same school won’t allow me to work enough to make enough money. 

So many people have it so much worse. A lot of people would be ecstatic to make 30 or 35k. I shouldn’t complain. But in fact, these are related issues. The service industry is fighting for $15 because the current min. wage is not a living wage. More people with families and mortgages and bills are working min. wage jobs. The educational system is being decimated for so many, a majority, who don’t have access to private schools or who don’t live in the few wealthy neighborhoods with superior public schools. The reduced value on and quality of education has put more people into the service industry instead of into professions. And people in professions like nursing and teaching have been turned into contract employees with lower pay and less job security and benefits.  The service-industry world serves the profits of a few but not of the many. 

And so my point is, I did not expect to still be here come this fall. In many ways, I did not expect otherwise, but a part of me had hope. And I worked that hope into action: I have been trying to write and publish and do as much professional development as I can fit into my schedule. I published a teaching essay. I have failed at publishing other academic essays. I am failing at getting much at all of my creative writing published. At so at this point I am focusing my energy on teaching and academic/prof. development within the teaching context. I wouldn’t say I have given up on my own creative writing, but out of necessity I’ve had to push it to the edges of my time and effort to make space for kinds of writing that will help me to get a full time job. That means thinking and writing about teaching/pedagogy in general, and toward a full time job teaching composition in particular. My degrees are in literature, cultural studies, and creative writing. The composition world is friendlier toward cultural studies and creative writing, but I have a ways to go to “prove” myself as having converted to the field. A prejudice against literary people lingers in the air. And I just don’t have enough energy to keep trying to do all of it. Although to me these things all go together, and all go into my teaching and my dedication to that, teaching experience alone is not enough and apparently one needs to be able to market oneself. I don’t really know what that means. I’m just trying to refocus myself and my disparate experiences into a version of me that will make sense to hiring committees. I’m not faking it, or changing myself; I’m just re-packaging or something.

I have had two interviews for full time jobs at community colleges, which I have been rejected for. I am a weird fit for a community college even though I have taught at a number of them and am totally dedicated to teaching, and have many years of experience to show that. The last interview felt totally rushed and the questions were all questions that were a bit off in some way from the questions I expected, like it was a specialty test of some kind. I must have sounded like a rambling idiot trying to come up with answers I hadn’t expected to think about. I had another interview for a full time, though one year temporary position. The interview I thought was really great, and I would have loved working in that department. But as with most of these things, many people more qualified than me applied, and I didn’t get it. I also later discovered that I had a missed fixing an error on my cover letter. Could this have been the determining factor? I think not, but maybe. Maybe I am not a careful enough person to have a full time job. 

So I feel like I am giving myself one more year to keep doing this. But I feel like I keep saying that. This summer, I didn’t want to give up my summer and so didn’t apply for other, non-teaching jobs that would start before Sept. And now I have a full teaching schedule for Sept. so the need for a different kind of job seems lessened. But how will I feel in Dec.? And I have spent the summer basically working on developing myself further as a teacher and academic/writer, so every time I think about doing something else, I think about how much I have invested in doing this over the past 15 years. And I keep seeing other people land jobs that they love or have been waiting for, some in teaching and others in other fields. Other people apply for jobs and get them. I am trying to be hopeful and work toward some kind of professional success but it is draining, disheartening, like trudging through mud sometimes. It is hard to continue to be motivated when the potential results are so ambiguous, and when faced with so many rejections all of the time. Even though I now feel like I do have some stability in terms of work and making not-entirely-terrible pay, I still feel relegated to the kiddie table. This is not a world in which teachers are given any professional respect. And for part time teachers, the ambivalence is even more apparent.

In the meantime, I have now over committed myself to writing papers to present at a number of conferences this fall, one or two papers to submit as possible book chapters, and since I’ve now been working on pedagogy and teaching through some amazing workshops and online classes/discussions, I now have to spend some time carefully revising some of my syllabi. I am excited for some new approaches to teaching. And I am daunted by the time and energy I’m going to need to get any of it done before the semester actually starts…

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