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For awhile many aspects of my fantasy book remained stuck. I couldn’t get inside people’s heads, I couldn’t see what the course of tension was, or what the backstory was, in order to move the right events forward. Finally I caved and allowed myself some distractions: movies, readings, working on other projects around the apartment. Naturally that’s when things began to reveal themselves to me. Not in full, but I certainly had those “aha!” moments that I was lacking. Things are starting to solidify and that allows me to write better characters and interactions because I’ve finally begun to understand where everyone is coming from and how things work. I was writing blindly before, with a general idea of the plot arc but that was it.

But this morning I work up with a completely different story in my head. I’ve often thought about writing what I know, which is higher ed, being a grad student, being a college instructor. My life experiences have been challenging, humorous, and sometimes just overbearing.  I’ve never dared to write about those experiences as it’s felt too raw, too personal, too open for judgment. This morning it was clear that I could write about that, and maintain a fiction element. Not everything that happened needs to happen to me, and I don’t need to make it all true to my life. In fact the lead characters were obvious, standing in front of me as if they just knew I was going to tell their story. I love those moments. Graduate school, that first teaching gig, the bullshit politics, and of course my romantic elements as well. What if I gave the alternative “me” a happier ending to those few years?

Of course this means I’ve got 3 stories going now, with multiple “essay” ideas. And I might end up hating where this goes. Writing is writing, and it’s all good practice, right?

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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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Good intentions

I had planned on writing a few pieces this week: family and holidays, shame and being yourself, you know, all the good stuff. Instead I am sick and behind on grading one of my favorite paper assignments: asking students to explore media they wouldn’t voluntarily expose themselves to. That means I’m wrapped in a blanket cocoon with boxes of tissues, tea and water and a ice pack for my ginormous sinuses.

But I do have this to say: I love that every time twitter e-mails me it is with complete enthusiasm. Some one favorited your tweet! Someone is following you! Someone responded! Everything! Is! Exciting! Now that’s the way to get my hooked on social media: make me feel special when something happens. !!

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I’m trying to do NaNoWriMo this month. I’m not entirely following the rules. For one I didn’t tell everyone and their brother about it. It’s supposed to help motivate you, but I’m not motivated by that. The more people ask the less I want to talk about it–this is my baby and I don’t want to hear other people’s…well anything. Not yet anyway. I had made the mistake once of telling some people only to get tons of story “advice” on what should happen and how. Um..no thanks, if that’s the story you want then you should write that, not me.

I also read somewhere you aren’t supposed to use a project you already had started, that it’s supposed to be it’s own novel. Yup. Breaking that one too–I’m working on one I started and put  away, that already has 20k words. Don’t worry, I’m not lying on my word count, I’m only counting the words I write this month. I know you’re only supposed to write, write, write and edit later but I find that taking old sections and revising them, (which largely means adding to them), helps me. (more…)

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**Author note: This piece originally appeared elsewhere in raw format. I’ve cleaned it up, added to it (yay! new job interview experiences! /sarcasm) and after being rejected for a local publication, decided it can go here.**

Not too long ago my brother suggested I start my own small business as a career counselor. Unfortunately, I have a great deal of experience with being on the job market, since I had originally intended on having a career in higher education. (I now have more realistic dreams, like being a New York Times best-selling fiction author.) Most of my job hunting advice wouldn’t be for the average job seeker, but rather for the hiring committees. With a background in communication and interpersonal relationships, I feel like the entire hiring process is lacking some basic communication skills. For example, I’ve been lucky enough to have some pretty unique interviewing experiences at colleges and businesses nationwide. I’ve toyed around with the idea of a community workshop. Should I ever do that, here’s a sample of what my lecture notes might look like. All identifying information has been edited to protect the guilty.

If I ask you why you like working here… (more…)

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The first post…

I’m desperately in need of content. Please stay tuned while I look for it. Thanks.

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