Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Pam From Pawtucket Prepares Her Parachute.
So I was lucky that I got hired! It was a “rising star” private school, in a decent city (albeit in a part of the country in which I never thought I’d want to live), with great benefits and double the salary of my VAP position. I was lucky!
And, this spring, I resigned. It seems that a competitive job market, in this case, translates directly to “we will work you until you die.”
In part, I resigned due to the fact that the tenure publishing standards at my school were higher than those at the R1 at which I was a VAP. At the R1, I taught a 2/2/0, and tenure was a book. Here, I taught a 3/4, with at least 5 preps a year, and tenure was 10 - 12 articles (books didn’t count; yes, that’s a thing). The last person to get tenure in my department, incidentally, did so while ringing in the millennium.
In part, my resignation was due to a regime change that left our department with the most myopic, punitive, vengeful chair one could possibly imagine—and said chair had been signed on to a life term.
In part, it was due to the fact that the department itself was toxic, with more heated, closed-doors conversations between colleagues than friendly ones, and everyone constantly on guard.
In part, it was due to insane institutional policies, which simultaneously told us we should do everything in our power to make students happy, but also told us that grade inflation was something we needed to actively combat. So we needed to weed out, fail, and yet somehow retain more and more students every year.
In large part, though, it was the fact that keeping up with all the various layers of insanity drove me insane. It was an impossible prospect—doing that much research, while teaching 200+ students a semester in writing-intensive classes without TA support, while trying to keep everyone happy, while trying to gauge what was going to piss off the omnipotent chair on any given day.
I hated the feeling that none of the work I ever did would be good enough. I hated the fact that I was always working (did I mention that I taught 5 days a week?). Or if I wasn’t working, I should be working, and I was therefore a failure. Writing became anxiety. I’ve produced pretty much nothing since I came here. I started having panic attacks. I needed therapy for the first time in my life.
And now I’m done. My spouse and I are moving for his job this time, and I’ve opted not to look for another teaching position. I’ve just finished my last semester, which was easily one of the best terms I’ve ever had. My students were (overall) engaged, hard-working, and hilarious. My evaluations were overwhelmingly the most positive I’ve ever received in my 7+ years of teaching. I went out on a high note.
However, I’m not going to miss the job. My project this week is to finally beat Final Fantasy XIII-2. After that, it’s turning my CV into a resume and figuring out what color my parachute is. I’m pretty sure, whatever’s next, I will be happier.
The thing is, I’m going to miss those kids. My favorite part of this job has been the students. They weren’t all great, and a lot of them were much less than great, but they were fun. It was exciting to watch them learn and grow, however reluctantly. I feel like I’m letting them down, but, honestly, it’s the institution, the college, and the department that’s letting them down by treating junior faculty as interchangeable chattel.
My biggest regret is not my “career failure” (I’ll be fine, in the end). Rather, it’s the fact that the state of higher education at this point in time leads to a glut of job seekers who should feel “lucky” to land a crappy job in a toxic department where they work under unreasonable conditions…as long as there’s dental! There’s something wrong with this system. So I’m out; good luck and godspeed to the rest of you!