July 30, 2013

It's happening all over again...maybe??

I got an email today asking me to teach at the same school again this fall. They offered me two sections of U.S. History again.

I'm conflicted. I didn't think I'd be willing to go back and I'm still not sure that it's a good idea because it's not very much money (I mean even lower than normal adjunct pay) and I may just be setting myself up for heartbreak all over again. On the other hand, I wouldn't have to revise anything unless I really, really wanted to, giving me time to finish the dissertation and keeping a foot in the door somewhere, since I've had absolutely no interest from any other schools I've applied to and the semester is rapidly approaching. It also means I could bartend or wait tables part-time, instead of the full-time option I'm staring down right now since no other teaching options are working for me.

I don't know. Any of you who so patiently listened to all of my whining (and celebrating, too) last year want to weigh in on this, keeping in mind that I've been trying for months and months (and months and months) to find alternate employment and keep getting rejected for being overqualified and underqualified, etc., etc., etc.?

21 comments:

  1. I think the main thing to think about would be the stress level and the outside of work hours commitment. If the pay is not that great for waiting tables/bartending or teaching, I would think about which one would leave me with the most time to work on my project.

    Also, am I suffering from academic burnout and do I need a break from teaching?

    It's not burning bridges to not accept the offer for the fall, either, so I would try to keep that in mind. Odds are the school will need someone in the spring or next fall, too.

    I'm trying hard not to work from a place of obligation to anyone but myself/my family, so I always try to keep in mind what's best for me/us when I make a decision.

    Good luck!

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  2. If you have taught back in spring or summer semester, I think not having adjuncting this fall will be bad. I would go for whatever pays most and offers the least time commitment. Good luck with the job hunt!

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  3. wait, did that make any sense? I am on a lot of cold medicine right now. I meant that not adjuncting will *not* be bad ... as in, it should be ok unless you are going on a year or so with no teaching. Sorry if I don't make sense!

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    1. Poor Sisyphus! I hope you're feeling better!

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  4. Hmmm... can you bargain with them? I mean, they need someone to teach these two sections, but they are offering below-normal wage. You might be able to come back with something like "I'd be pleased to teach these sections, but can't afford to at $xxx. If this could be bumped up a bit, I'd strongly consider it." It's worth a shot - the worst they can say is "no".

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    1. Sadly, I've already done that and at the top of the pay grade for adjuncts who haven't finished their PhD. Once it's done, I *might* be able to get another $300 per class, but who knows?

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  5. If you really want to be in academia, then take the position.

    I also had a horrendous year last year. Overworked and character assassinated by students and TAs alike. I did a lot of soul searching and determined that I needed to prioritize. I think that a lot of it is about our attitudes. As women, we want everything to go well, and when it doesn't, it is our fault. So my conclusion has been to reprioritize my life. I making some major changes to my syllabus to make it mine and not the university's. I will walk into the classroom and teach but that is it. My real energy needs to be reserved for finishing the dissertation and taking care of myself. As you said, you do need to really change your syllabus, so you are good to go. Perhaps it is just figuring out that this is a job and not a career--and sometimes shitty jobs are better than no jobs. Or not.

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    1. Aargh. The whole "If you really want to be in academia, then take the position" argument is infuriating. I know what you're trying to say, but, especially lately, there has been this backlash against people who left academia because of the job/pay conditions. Desire to do something should not outweigh a person's ability to make a living wage and not be treated as an indentured servant. I really do know that's not what you meant at all; it just struck a chord with me (at 3:00 a.m.) because it plays into schools' ability to pay adjuncts next to nothing to do the majority of the teaching and expect them to turn around and say," Why, thank you ever so much for hiring me. I'd be delighted to accept this pittance of a salary." It drives me nuts, especially since I seem to be stuck in that very situation!

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    2. By the way, I don't remember how the TA situation ended for you. Was it ok in the end? I hope so! Even if it was, prioritizing will be good for both of us.

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    3. I, too, agree that this attitude is problematic (though I realize metheist may be reflecting it as much as advocating it). As I mentioned below, I suspect you might even have trouble if you wanted to take just one section (to keep your hand in while working some other, more lucrative job), or to teach for the same department, but only once a year. In other words, it's not only difficult in the current environment to return to academia if one leaves, even briefly, for a decently-paying outside-of-academia job, it's probably difficult (though not impossible, if one is flexible) to teach only enough to keep one's skills up to date while holding down that sort of job (and I pretty strongly believe that keeping up current skills or building new ones is the only reason an experienced teacher should agree to teach for adjunct wages, at least at the core/intro level; teaching the occasional grad or advanced undergrad class as a professional passing on skills to aspiring professionals is another thing, but it's *not* what most adjuncts, at least in the humanities, are doing these days).

      I do understand the background: schools are just trying to fill teaching slots as efficiently as possible (and hiring and evaluating adjuncts is taking up ever-greater amounts of the non-teaching time that TT faculty are supposed to be devoting to service *and* research -- there are hidden/not-often-acknowledged costs of this system to TT faculty as well).

      I also, as a long-time contingent, understand and to some extent respect the mentality of rewarding adjuncts' loyalty, or at least valuing the skills, and the familiarity with a school and its students, they've built. There's a lot to be said for moving current part-time contingents to full time, and contingents of any sort to the tenure track, given the reality that we currently have many departments with large numbers of people who are, in fact, long-time faculty members, but who have reached that status via a series of one-semester or one-year contracts.

      Honestly, I think the main pressure is going to have to come from the outside, in the form of students and their parents who ask pointed questions about why they're paying full tuition only to be taught by part-time workers. And even that is tricky, because one needs to somehow get across the message that adjuncts are not bad teachers, just insufficiently supported ones.

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    4. I think the outside pressure needs to happen, but, you're right, it's a very tricky situation. Wasn't there an uproar a few years ago when it came out that the majority of teaching over all the SUNY campuses was done by adjuncts? People were upset that adjuncts seemed inferior, despite the same degrees and training. One of my students from last wrote in her evaluation that she was appalled that the school would hire someone to teach a class with only an undergraduate degree and that she felt that the school should refund all of my students' tuition and let the take the class again because she loves learning and didn't learn anything from me at all. I think she missed the part where I said I had my M.A. and am finishing (sometime!) my PhD. The sad part is, the department actually does hire people with only a B.A. to teach some classes. One adjunct graduated last May, started his M.A. in education (not history) in August, and also started adjuncting in August. I don't think that's fair to the students at all, nor is it necessarily fair to him because he doesn't have the training in history to handle the class prep, but he is a favorite of the former chair (who schedules the classes still), so he gets two classes a semester, every semester. He basically regurgitates what he learned in the class and reads the notes that a professor gave him. If I was a student (or parent), I would be extremely unhappy about that. So reading my student's comments made me laugh. She's right...just not about me. The best part was that she got a B+ in the class and spent the entire semester telling me how she only signed up for the class (it was an 8:00 class) because the professor who was supposed to teach it only taught for 10-15 minutes at a time and she knew she would be back in bed by 8:30 if he was the prof. Sounds like she loves learning, right?

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    5. I have seriously debated over the course of the year whether I want to stay in academia. I left a career of 12+ years to go back to school. With the difficulty of trying to finish the dissertation and then the teaching position I put myself in, I have thought about just quitting. I could make the same amount at my previous job and actually be able to pick up a second job to pay off my $100,000+ student loans. But, I have really had to think about why I went back to school and ignored everyone's advice.

      The TA situation. Even though the spring course improved, I was still pulled into a meeting in the spring. The TA who caused all the trouble in the fall, did a lot of gossiping and put a lot of people, including me on edge for the spring. I had three out of four TAs complain that I was a bully and dissed them. I admit, I was so completely frustrated one day that I said something to another faculty member in the hallway. I was totally out of line, I admit it. Well, someone heard and reported it to my boss, who didn't say anything to me until later in the semester. The gyst, in the meeting, I was blindsided as the TAs went around the table and each person had a list of complaints against me. The person heading the meeting then turned to me and said "what do you have to say?" Everything that they said had to do with the first 2-3wks of class, and mainly around the fact that I wanted all four TAs to follow the same rubric and actually read my syllabus. I felt that the meeting was unjustified because I had not attacked the TAs and their complaints could have been handled in my office. My frustration comes from the fact that the TAs want more control in the classroom. Fine, but some cannot handle what they are given--like help do group work or follow the rubric. My problem is that I try to please everyone, and so I try to explain my actions. I don't need to explain my actions, because that is what is getting me in trouble. I just need to be pleasant, and if they don't do their jobs, then I send an email and document everything.

      This past year has been nothing but a character assassination. I have gone from being a professional and reliable person to someone who cannot get along with others nor finish a job (my dissertation). As I said, I've done a lot of soul searching and had to take a hard look at myself--especially since my boss says that it is my "tone" that's the problem. Am I really such a bitch? Or is it that I'm such a people pleaser that when I give and give, and then get nothing in return, I let my frustration show? This summer, I have really come to realize that I have allowed my life to spin out of control because of anxiety over my dissertation. Believe it or not, watching bad reality TV shows and how people interact, react, and perceive one another, has helped me understand a little better, what is happening with me. Essentially, I just need to keep my mouth shut and just do my job--not try to be friends with everyone--but just be professional. I have a small group of very good friends who understand me, and I do not need to express myself to anyone else.

      So far, each day this summer has been a struggle to take control of my life back. To accept that things have not gone to plan, but that I am not a horrible person. To realize that I just need to get a complete draft to the committee, take the hits that they give me (because I know they are coming), and then move on to revising and defending. The biggest thing that I struggle with is accepting the fact that I am actually a writer--not a worker--but a writer who has something to say today. My ideas may not be perfect but they are valid.
      Too much information perhaps :)

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    6. One thing to add. I had heard all the horror stories about adjuncts, but the school where I came from treated adjuncts very well--faculty and graduate students accepted them. I really thought that this job would be different as well because the interview went so well. But once I got here, I realized that while the people who interviewed me were fantastic, there were faculty members here that were not. Many completely ignore me in the office, department get togethers, and even at the grocery store. Yet, my boss accused me of being the one who did not put forth the effort. Because of my teaching schedule, I am unable to attend faculty meeting. And even though I was told in the spring that I would be brought into job searches, etc., I was passed over for in favor of someone else. When I interviewed I was told that I would have freedom to create my own syllabus, only to find out when I got here that everyone without exception had to teach the same major assignments, which have significant problems. I do have freedom to create my own syllabus, but it is only the readings and short assignments that I have control over. But by far, is the disconnect that I have felt here. The department is extremely incestuous--meaning they hire their own--and outsiders, unless they are married with families, are not welcomed. We have three more adjuncts and one tenure track coming this fall. It will be interesting to see how they go since, with the exception of one, are all single females like myself.

      I am so frustrated with the situation because I really like the school and community. I would not mind renewing my contract and staying. But, I feel like I have not been given a chance. That I have completely screwed things up, and while I am willing to work and improve, there is no forgiveness coming my way.

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    7. It's all so frustrating! I wish that adjuncting while you ware finishing your dissertation was, I don't know, illegal or something. Writing is hard and disheartening enough. Dealing with adjuncting by itself can be difficult and disheartening, depending on the department and school. Combining the two...it's no wonder people struggle for years to finish while living like this. The PhD system breaks down your self-esteem, sometimes purposely, I think, because you are constantly relying on tidbits of praise from "superior" scholars. The adjunct system, by default, does the same because you constantly worry why you can't get out of adjuncting. Put the two together and it's a recipe for a nervous breakdown.

      I'm so sorry that you've had to go through all of this. Hopefully this year will be the year that we finish our dissertations and get on with our lives, however we choose to live them!

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  6. Since you've got the syllabi, I'd lean toward taking it, mostly on the grounds that it probably looks better on your c.v. to be currently teaching, and to have been asked back (I wouldn't say that if you'd been able to find a full-time alternative job that was in some way arguably related to your desired profession -- so, either something history-related or some sort of teaching).

    You might want to think about one section vs. two, partly as a way of clarifying for yourself exactly what you want to get out of the job, if you take it (c.v. line, pay, and/or actual experience). Two sections is usually the more efficient choice (and it may be what the school wants), but it's worth thinking about.

    If you weren't still working on the diss, I'd suggest looking around for other, different adjunct opportunities (broader experience, better pay), but repetition sounds like the way to go in your current situation.

    P.S. I've had more or less this same experience with my current full-time job: I was hired for the first year, not-rehired for the second due to enrollments (and declined adjunct work on the grounds I couldn't afford it) and was rehired sometime in July. It's a rollercoaster well worth getting off when you can, but this might not be the moment. Just don't get into the mindset that taking adjunct work for the fall means remaining there all year. Depending on time/energy available, you're free to switch directions in January (even if you initially say yes to spring classes. The idea that three weeks' notice is fair game goes both ways).

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    1. That's exactly it. If I wasn't still working on the diss, I'd have more time to look for other academic or adjunct opportunities, but I am, so I don't. Don't get me wrong. I've looked at schools up and down the east coast, but I also can't afford to move very far right now, so that's limiting, too. Plus, there is the full time job search coming up, well, now. As we all know, that's a major time suck in and of itself. Rollercoaster is exactly right!

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  7. Thanks for all the input, everyone. I've decided to go back for the fall. Like I said, I do want to keep a foot in the door somewhere, even if I sometimes feel as if that door is being slammed on said foot over and over and over. Minimal revisions means that the class is basically ready to go, so it is also silly to not take the classes. Like last semester, I will need to continually remind myself to limit revisions and time spent grading in favor of my dissertation, but that's ok. Overall, I still love teaching and I'm looking forward to seeing some of my students again, so it will be worth it. And perhaps I'll defend in December, get a post-doc almost immediately (snort!) and get on with my next research project! How's that for optimism at the start of the semester?

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    1. Sounds like a plan.

      Is there anything you could do now to limit grading time later -- clearer grading criteria on the syllabus and/or assignments? A check-off rubric to which you can just add a sentence or two for papers? There's a tradeoff, of course (time now or time later), but a bit of thought given to trimming anything that requires more substantive feedback than absolutely required, or that generated email (questions, grade complaints, etc.) last time, might be worthwhile. You're in survival mode; give your students your full and best attention when actually in the classroom, but do everything you can to cut out-of-class prep and grading. We all know that's not actually how teaching works, but it's pretty much the principle on which you're being paid, and at least for this semester, you need to plan your approach accordingly.

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    2. It's like you are reading my mind! I'm working on the rubric right now for the papers to cut my grading time down. Sadly, I did find out the department is switching textbooks again. That makes three times in the three semesters I've taught there, so...that's fun. I can't even get the book for another week, so I'm prepping as much as I can now and filling in the readings later. Fun times!

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  8. I think you've made a right decision. I only imagine how you had a bad time when you taught last, but it does have a good look on c.v., that is, they wanted you to come back, that is, you did a good job! Those who read CV's don't know each complicated situation, just read what you listed.

    What is more, if I remember right, you had a good students' feed back last time, and also you had several nice students who missed you? I think that kind of things are the best reward, more than money and a good look on CV.

    I hope I'm saying something encouraging. Maybe I have misunderstood your situation or I am saying something annoying, but I only hope you find your way, your future, as one who had a long long history of working part-time.

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  9. The 'one' in the second last sentence means me myself actually. I hope my rumbling make some sense???

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