Daily Archives: November 18, 2009

always a teacher

Yesterday, we drove by the college where I taught as a new adjunct instructor last fall, and I began thinking about teaching again, which brings me to a few of the questions some of you asked last month.

Ash wrote,

What about continuing to teach higher ed…curious on your thoughts there, especially in this struggling economy? What about teaching online? (I have some suggestions if y’all are interested.) That’s our plan when we actually start TTC/have kids.

Cindyhoo also asked,

What is your ultimate vocational goal?

First, let me give you a little history. I have long thought that I would eventually have a stable career in academia. That has not been the case. I began teaching at a university as an adjunct in 2000. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “adjunct,” it refers to those of us who teach on a “part-time” basis. We are not tenure track, and we have no job security. Essentially, we are permitted at most community colleges to teach 60% of full-time. At state universities here in California, we can teach full-time, but we are temporary, seasonal, transient (as we were once called by administrators at a school where I taught), and without any sort of job security or (usually) much pay or any sort of health benefits. Yeah, it’s a great deal.

I have taught for a state university and two different community colleges. I used to teach at both simultaneously while also working at my online job at an educational support company. I was one of those “lucky” Americans with three jobs. Sometimes I loved it, and sometimes I hated it. But it certainly isn’t the three jobs at a time that I miss. In fact, there are a lot of things about teaching that I don’t miss in the least.

For example, as an adjunct, few people typically know who I am. I am a ghost of sorts, arriving to teach right before class begins, leaving soon after class is over without leaving so much as a streak on the whiteboard. It’s gets fairly lonely having little to no camaraderie with my colleagues; it’s uncomfortable to always exist on the fringes. This I don’t miss.

Because I teach writing, I bring home a lot of papers, journals, responses to readings, and I spend countless hours responding to these things. These I do not miss.

I often have to teach at multiple colleges or at least multiple campuses at once. Last fall, I taught at two separate campuses at opposite ends of the day–one class at 7am, one class at 5pm. I had two separate offices (each shared with at least five other people), two separate mailboxes, two separate sets of office staff to charm, two separate campuses to learn, but just one puny paycheck. The confusion, the commute, the miniscule pay–these things I do not miss.

But I do miss the students. There is something so electric about the first day of class. I typically come in wearing a suit, heels, toting my welll-worn black leather professor bag. I place the papers to be handed out in stacks on the desk, write my name on the board along with “English 100” or “English 1A.” I examine the roster and freak out a little about the hard-to-pronounce names. I look up at the students coming in and smile, take a few deep breaths as I watch the clock, and as soon as the top of the hour strikes, I begin. I’m always a little nervous the first day of a class, but as soon as class begins, that fades away, and I’m on. I do my best to charm each new group, to strike a little fear in them while also working to sell them on the class I’m teaching, and by the end of the hour, after I’ve spoken with the stragglers who want to impress me from day one, I float on this little bit of a high for an hour or so.

And then there are those days in class when I’m so on, when all of my synapses are firing properly, and I’m explaining things well and engaging my students in great activities and actually getting them to participate. These are the days I live for–the days when students leave talking about the class content for the day, or they stay behind to talk with me about it. These are the days I miss. I  miss the connections with the students, the fact that I am in some way changing how they think or how they view the written word, that I am, indeed, making a difference in someone’s life (as cliché as that may sound).

I guess I have known for a long time that I would teach, and despite some extreme shyness that I suffered throughout childhood and early adulthood, I really found myself in the classroom. I’m a good teacher. What I’m not so good at are the politics of teaching in higher education. I’m also not good at working sixty or eighty hours a week for what amounts to less than minimum wage when one considers the many hours of prep work and grading we must do in my field (we’re usually either paid by the unit/credit or paid by hour spent in the classroom). I’m not good at the lack of job security. I haven’t had a class offered to me since last fall, and I won’t likely get another class until–maybe–next fall, and that is only if California’s economy turns around and schools actually want to offer more classes.

So I am in a position where I am not sure whether or not I want to go back to teaching in higher education. Or rather, I don’t want to go back on the same terms. I don’t even know if I want that full-time, tenure-track position I have pined over for nearly ten years because I don’t think I would want all the time away from my family spent in committee meetings. I really am at a point in my career, my career that never really took off, where I want a major change, and yet my training is in one very specific field. I have a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in teaching writing. My work experience lies in teaching writing, so I’m qualified to do little else but, you guessed it, teach writing.

I don’t know what my next career will be. I would consider some online teaching, but I have to say, I think I would really miss the magic of the classroom. I have other interests too–things like nutrition education, linguistics, and more. And then there’s the lure of a doctorate, but then I have to question what field I would pursue. I really am at a crossroads with my career, and I just don’t know where I’ll go.

For now, I guess I’m just focusing on my new favorite student and taking one day at a time. My career will come later; for now, I’m way more interested in learning how to make this guy laugh.

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