Archive for January, 2013

Author note: I realize I’m late in writing about this topic. Truth is, I got annoyed with it enough that I had to walk away. Oh yeah and I needed to prep for this semester’s classes. And the people talking about this at the time weren’t talking about contingent faculty anyway. Instead, I’m posting this on the first day of my semester.

I’ve heard a million times how “easy” educators have it. Articles like this one don’t help in that conversation. They add to the illusion that education, and in this case higher ed, is a cushy, easy job. It’s also common to assume educators are over paid.

I can’t speak for the K-12 system. I can say that the Forbes article, like most major media outlets ignore one key thing: contingent faculty. Is teaching rewarding? Yes. Is it stressful? F’ yeah. (As Ms. Adams was forced to add an addendum to her article, but it felt a little weak, similar to the “well my best friend is [insert offended group] and he was fine with what I said.” The professor she knows is not the norm.) Do university faculty have it different from liberal arts college faculty and community college faculty? Yes and no. Budgets are tight all around, all require service and research, though research can sometimes look a little different at community colleges, it’s still there and essential. All require teaching, but vastly different teaching loads. If you love research, a community college isn’t for you and if you love teaching, you might not be fully satisfied at an R1 (research intense university). Since the job marker in higher ed is tight, you are likely to find yourself in a location/at an institution that’s far from your goals and that alone can add to the stress.

Contingent faculty, adjuncts and those on temporary full-time lines, face a whole other world of stress. Hustling for work year after year, if you’re lucky, otherwise it’s every semester. You have no idea if you’ll have work next semester or next year, or how much work you’ll have. You apply to everything you can while working, which is exhausting, because you are also trying to do every little thing you can to prove that you are worth a contract renewal, extra classes, or you’re just trying to hang in there in case that magic full-time tenure track position opens, or in some cases, just a full-time anything opens.

Did I mention that in many cases contingent faculty outnumber tenured and tenure track faculty? Straight from the AAUP: “Non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for 68 percent of all faculty appointments in American higher education.” My last community college, I was temporary full-time. Between my peers and the adjuncts, there were over 300 contingent faculty and less than 150 full-time faculty. I was temporary full-time at a small  liberal arts school for a lucky 3 years, and after they cut my line, I watched as the school cut more and more lines, reducing one department from 5 full-time faculty to three full timers, numerous adjuncts, increased student class sizes and increased incoming classes. (Tell me those full-time faculty aren’t stressed out. I dare you.) Or is this what Careercast meant when they said “high growth opportunities“?

Contingent faculty may also find themselves facing insane commutes and schedules just to make ends meet. I know of a couple English professors who teach 5-6 classes at 4 different colleges. Factor in commutes, different lecture/assignment preparation for different classes, meeting with students, grading, and additional activities many adjuncts take on to boost resumes, and you’ll find that they are maxed out. Oh yeah, these men have families too. With the average rate in my region being about $2000 per course per semester, adjuncts aren’t exactly “breadwinners.” Full time contingent faculty, in my experience, do get full-time benefits and wages, but the lowest wage and I’ve yet to meet a dean that’s willing to negotiate on it. Just as much is expected of you as any other full-time faculty member, but without a promise of future work, you better be on the job market too. Last academic year I watched one professor blindly believe she would be renewed next year only to learn in December she wouldn’t, despite having done everything “right”–taking on extra work, volunteering for everything, teaching a minimum of 5 courses a semester and doing research. Having missed Round 1 of job postings, she spent all Spring focusing on the Round 2 postings. She felt betrayed.

I’m sure this isn’t the stress I’m talking about and living isn’t what was meant when considering least stressful jobs. After all Ms. Adams only spoke to the one tenured faculty member she knew, and that person hardly represents all faculty. And despite the fact that contingent faculty is a growing group they are completely overlooked when these articles are published in the media. In Careercast’s comments the publisher admits they only considered the full-time faculty member: “We didn’t rank positions other than full-time university professor, meaning those professionals who already hold that job, and the vast majority of those have achieved tenure.” The stress the rest of us feel is “irrelevant”


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Technically, technically, I am a writer. I write. I always have. But recently, (the last year or so), I wanted that writing to be something more. Because I was still teaching full time, (I’m “just” part time now), I joined some online academic writing groups. I am not really doing academic writing, but I liked that people understood my job constraints and I had a place to be accountable.

These last few rounds of writing groups–summer, fall, and the on going on now–haven’t been of much service. I’m still teaching but have been trying to leave that for a while. If I could find other part time work that is more local, instead of an hour commute, then I’d gladly take it. However, when I go for job interviews I’m told “you’ll probably quit this job when you get a full time teaching job,” and no matter what I say, I can’t convince people otherwise. While I want to leave the option to teach one class here and there always open, I no longer wish to teach full time. As a result, I’ve deliberately stopped paying attention to certain blogs, news feeds, topics, that previously held my attention and time. This also means that some of the conversation in these writing groups isn’t applicable to me at all. I’m not writing a dissertation or research paper. I’m not analyzing data. I’m not wasting my time with excessive prep work or grading for classes because when you’re being paid a very limited salary, you make different decisions about what your time is worth. I’m not doing any service to the college work. I’m alright with all of that, but it also means I’m just out of the loop in these writing groups.

I feel further out on my own when the type of writing is so vastly different. Writing for journals or conferences or dissertations is a completely different beast than the essays, short stories and fantasy fiction I’m working on. So I don’t have a place in that group to ask questions about my specific writing struggles. Originally, the first few group sessions were hosted by people who acknowledged all types of writing. The topics of the week for applicable to all writing projects and the topics really made me think about how I write and how I approach writing. Since then, more academic-only focused people have been hosting the writing groups, making the group very insular. This last week’s check-in has me considering quitting the group all together. I just don’t fit.

I tried writing for a publication that wasn’t academic thinking I’d fit there Finally I could NOT write about education all the time. But as I found the publication, (sorry no links, I can’t in good faith give the place more traffic), wrote some reprehensible pieces that lacked basic critical thinking and good question asking skills, I realize I might be more of an academic than I thought. But I don’t belong in academic writing groups. And I need some accountability and hand-holding to keep me going. I just don’t know where I belong when it comes to that. I have a lot of doubts, a lot of things I want to write about/talk about/work through, but other than writing here, I haven’t found my “home” yet.

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Holding back

Despite knowing the rules of the internet, I’ve neglected this space. I’ve neglected a number of spaces actually.  I’m pretty good at getting in my own way. Some of the things I want are in my control and yet I block myself.  I’ll make excuses, I’ll procrastinate. I won’t event try.  Maybe it’s the perfectionism. Maybe it’s the depression–even though I tell my husband “You have to fight it every day,” I don’t fight it myself.

Mind you, I’m out of  the worst gloom. Finally. Events from a year ago brought me to a brink I had never neem to before, meaning that getting out was equally uncharted. Different than previous depressive episodes, and so dark that there was no “oh I need to reach out now,” moment. I never used to give weight to the idea that one action, one decision, could touch everything. I do now.

Now I am in more familiar waters: sleep troubles, vivid dreams, inability to focus, foggy, lack of motivation combined with being unable to drop a pointless task to pursue something related to my goals. As I said, getting in my own way.

I’m great at external goals. Student work gets graded because I know the students count on it. When I full-time college instructor I was all in; I overworked myself really. As an adjunct I go all in on my classes. I can even use those goals/tasks to get in my way: For years I would work myself to death but really had nothing for myself to use to recharge or refill. It was work or nothing. By 2008, even a “summer break” wasn’t enough to help me reset for the next year. I entered a dark period where I entertained the idea of planning my own death. I can through the other side of that better able to recognize when the dark thoughts were starting, an important step in stopping the rest of that cycle. This last year was an exception as I encoutered situations I never dreamed would impact me, and I feel like I’m re-learning that skill. I feel like I’m still trying to find away to talk about it.

I need to add to my skills this time. I need to stop getting in my way. I worry. I’m afraid of not being successful, so if I don’t try I never fail. Technically. I worry people will attack me or not like me. (Don’t I sound like I’m 16? I swear I’m not. I just have an awful history of picking the wrong friends or being in the middle of controversial topics I didn’t plan on being in.) I want to be liked and by that I mean you don’t have to agree with me, you just need to not be a jerk. I don’t handle miscommunication well; I shut down. I began studying communication because I wanted to fix miscommunication issues but 13 years later I’ve learned you can’t make people slow down, listen, be mindful, ask good questions, consider facts. Not if they aren’t interested–regardless of whether they say they are. Actions are more than your words.

I imagine some friends and family telling me to toughen up right now. Just do it, whatever that “it” is. Take some meds, get over yourself, not everyone will like you. I’ve heard it all before. That stoicism, I believe, plays a major role in my depression. If I could just be like everyone else and shut down these feelings, and not verbalize them, then it’d all be O.K. Lack of honesty about emotions, their impact, lack of honesty about who I am, combined with suppressing character traits that are natural to me just so I can fit in with my less emotional family and peers hasn’t paid off. That suppression has kept me from asking for helping during some dark times. It’s an easy path to self hate from there, and it’s pretty well paved from where I’m standing.

I am trying to take steps forward. I am trying to get out of my way. To be vulnerable. To share about my depression and about being married to a spouse who has it as well. To be comfortable with who I am instead of being ashamed of it. Channelling Brene Brown. Hold my hand?

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