I had a wonderful day with 2 high school friends who came to my tiny apartment to see me from our shared hometown about 6 hours away. It was like no time had passed. We laughed about boys (two of us are single still), our old teachers, told tales of parents, reminisced, and looked at 1 million pictures of babies and pets.
And then at night we were in my apartment eating pizza in pajamas and talking about our careers.
Jane got a business degree and went to work in a small factory as an office manager right after college. Tricia got a degree in English, married her high school sweetheart, and runs part of the town's library.
I, of course, as you know from my name am an adjunct instructor.
They envied me. No, seriously. They told me how much they admired me when I went to grad school and how proud they were when I became a professor. The pizza turned in my stomach a bit. Then I fell apart.
I told them that this semester I'd only been able to secure 3 classes at the community college where I work mostly. That's $8100 a semester, no benefits. No office. A mailbox in the department office and a debit card I can use to print and make copies. If you count my HAUL from Spring semester I will make $20,000 this year before taxes.
They looked at me and I wept, and all the frustration I have felt about this career washed over me and overwhelmed me.
Jane couldn't stop herself from saying, "I make $45,000 and I barely graduated. I only work 30 hours a week most weeks." Tricia said, "I'm at the library half time. I make $36,000 with all the benefits and a retirement plan."
Then they both said, "How do you do it?"
And I just felt so sick. I always thought being a "professor" was everything. It was my dream job, and I worked hard to get there. Even now, with my three classes this term, I work 40 hours a week. These first few weeks of this semester have been especially trying with under-prepared students, unwelcome overloads in all three sections, and hours and hours of prep and grading for a new book I was assigned.
So what did I go to grad school for?
I used to love to research and write, but the teaching and the worry and the coupon clipping has sapped me of my strength. The girls stayed overnight and we went to breakfast together, both of them fighting to pay! I felt like the loser, like the fool who took the wrong path. They have always been my friends and that they know this about me, that they discovered the truth about MANY academic careers, embarrassed me. We'll always be friends, and in fact we made hard plans for some fun this Christmas when I often go back home and just collapse in my brother's house with him and his family.
I know my story is not the only academic path. I have grad school friends who did better than I did, who teach better full time schedules, have time to write, and live much easier lives. But I know a lot of adjuncts, having worked at 4 colleges in the area. There are a LOT of us, and as everyone knows, THIS is the way the profession - especially in some disciplines - has been going now for many years.
Why all the hard preparation? Why all the years of grad school misery? Why do so many of us do it when the result is the sorrow I felt yesterday when it all came crashing down on me?