Nothing new but funny, nonetheless.
I’m somewhat ready. Last week, I had to meet with the Writing Director at campus #1 to go over my syllabus for Honors Freshman Composition. This is the class that I had to redesign based on my sub-par evaluations. I spent a few days re-working it–adding a blog component to initiate more discussion, working in some designated “instructor input” sessions, even typing up some formal lesson plans with time marks.
The feedback that I received was that I was heading in the wrong direction. That is, the blog component was propagating the “decentralized” nature of this class, and we want to go the opposite direction (which I thought the “instructor input” sessions would do). It seemed that I was also attempting to cover too many concepts in one session. The Writing Director said that I should try to stick to one or two things (for a 75 min session) that the students can walk away with. (I wish I’d known this earlier.) My concern with this is not having enough content to go over, but I believe it’ll give us the opportunity to thoroughly cover the nuances of these concepts.
Another advice was that I needed to directly tie concepts with practice (their essays). Duh, right? What I had trouble with was the order in which I presented material. Previously, I’d covered a unit on “Academic Writing”–complete with integrating sources, when their next assignment was a personal narrative. (I blame the textbook on this one–academic writing is Ch. 3, while narrative writing is Ch. 4.) Although I’m aware that I can and should deconstruct the book to fit my lessons, I did not particularly think skipping a chapter was a good idea. We’d covered the first two on “Critical Reading” and “The Writing Process”–which is pretty much review–so “Academic Writing” was grouped with that. But I do see the benefit now. This semester, we’ll cover “Academic Writing” with their persuasive essay unit, which does require them to apply the concepts therein.
Lastly, the Writing Director emphasized three things that “professors from other disciplines” want students to learn from composition instructors: 1.) how to formulate a thesis, 2.) how to evaluate text, 3.) how to integrate research. Sounds very simple, and while it’s only about 10% of what I actually do have to cover, this piece of advice will help me focus my lessons.
Learning pedagogy is like learning how to write. Unlike occupations that objectively train you how to do something by following a certain number of prescribed steps, pedagogy and writing urge us to learn through our own process, by trial and error. The Writing Director simply could have given me her tried and true syllabus or sat with mine, pen in hand, to tell me how to structure it, but she didn’t. She asked questions and helped me see my own mistakes. No wonder why she consistently receives great evaluations, per the Associate Dean. I’m appreciative, and I only wish we could have met earlier–like last summer.
Because of having to completely redesign my syllabus (for the second time) for this Honors Comp course, I’m a little behind on my other three syllabi. The semester starts for two classes next week, so the only other one I had to focus on this week was the Comp II at campus #4, which–thank the universe–provided a course plan. I love specificity. And while the course plan can seem rigid to some, it completely lessens the burden of having to pull pedagogy out of my ass within a short period. (I did just get hired a couple of weeks ago.)
The second great thing about this course is that it’s themed: social status and inequality. I’d wanted to redesign the Honors Comp class based on something thematic, but I didn’t have enough time to gather materials. Sometime last semester, I’d looked at the writing programs at the six colleges at UCSD and thought how neat that would be to learn writing concepts based on interesting topics: culture, technology, arts, social justice. At times, it felt as though my composition courses lacked relevance because the content was really repetitive. These students have heard these before. The themes, then, seemed to fill the missing link between “relevance” and “content.”
I have two more syllabi to make from scratch: Comp II (different textbooks) and Technical Writing. But I have until next Monday. Today: much needed play time with my nephews, and then Lauryn Hill, live in concert.
Another university called to ask if I wanted to teach some courses. This is the second semester that the coordinator called way after I’d already filled my schedule. Last summer, after I quit my job and begun my around-the-country train trip, she called while I was around the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I’m sure she appreciated the live music and screaming children in the background. She asked me to consider her again for the future. It’s somewhat validating to be in demand. It gives me hope that eventually the demand will be for full-time positions. And I’ll take non-tenure track.
Speaking of, for another post, I’m looking at New Orleans for next school year, if a job pulls through. Details later.
Two poems from my first manuscript were accepted for Lavender Review (#3).
Very happy minus a life issue or two.
Like most people, I am perpetually looking for my next move–upward mobility, the sign of success in our culture. The past two years, because I was unhappy with my career at the publisher, I considered various avenues for change: a 1-year post-bacc BSN program, a 2-year Associate’s in Nursing program (since graduates incur less debt and are paid similar wages as BSNs), 1-2 year post-bacc program for medical school, officer training school for the military, film studies programs, and of course, PhD programs in humanities.
All of these choices represent my internal conflicts between needing job security/reasonable wages and my ideals. I wanted, for instance, to go into nursing because of the potential for options: I could work contractually and be a traveling nurse making $60/hr. Or I could pursue medicine on an expert level and be an MD. (Endocrinology and neuroscience interest me the most.) There is also the military who would pay for my loans if I enlist (as a non-officer), or provide job security and a way out of this city. Film school would be a dream with no job security, but an opportunity for creativity. PhD programs in humanities represents my intent to continue along the path I chose for myself during my junior year in college, when I decided that science, with its reductionist motives, were in conflict with my core values. Lately, I’ve been thinking that a PhD in media/cultural studies would be a perfect confluence of my interests and perhaps offer more job security than a PhD in English, although I’m sure the difference is minimal.
Last night, at a cafe in the city (I reside about 40 mins away), I heard young urbanites who attend MA/PhD programs in social work discuss their troubles. They were all under 30, so no doubt they’ve never tried to survive without the construct of academia. One took photos and remarked on the cafe’s ambiance–her outlet from being anxious about the results of her survey/research. They were all brilliant, filled with ideas and doubt. They talked about the system, how they wanted so much to change it, but then got lost along the way. Now they are unsure about the “next step.” They do not want to be social workers. They want to teach and research, except there are very few opportunities–like in English, hundreds of applicants for one position.
Through my experiences in graduate school for my MFA, I’ve come to realize that academia is not sustainable, and here is another case, more evidence. Academia needs brilliant minds, but it cannot offer jobs because there are none, unless more universities pop up. According to The Chronicle, roughly half of all doctoral graduates get jobs in their field. Slightly less than a Ponzi scheme, but pretty close.
Recently, I read through some emails between my AP Lit teacher (who has since passed from a brain tumor) and me. I had just switched majors from Biology to English, and I was so excited about this new path into the humanities. I knew then, in 2003, that teaching and writing would be my goals:
O the possibilities!! I’m excited but terribly afraid…At least I know life will not be mundane, huh?
Seven years later, I’ve achieved those goals: teaching and and writing, but I have a long way to go. Doubt gets to me, especially when I see those from my high school cohort, who’ve pursue medicine or some other practical route, do very well and present themselves with much more glee and confident purpose. Most have families now and are accomplishing those “emerging adulthood” milestones, while I’ve regressed a bit. (I did have a mortgage once and a series of partners, although none of it worked out.) I have difficulty at times in feeling secure about my life decisions–not just pursuing a career in the humanities, but life in general.
My 10-year high school reunion is coming up this summer. I was co-valedictorian and had very high expectations for myself. (The other valedictorian is now in her residency as a family physician.) Perhaps, I feel some measure of failure. I did take the path less traveled, but what do I have to show for it besides an overdeveloped consciousness and three towering bookshelves filled with ideas? I’ve acquired very little in the same terms that “accomplishment” is usually measured in the world (ie, wealth, prestige, security).
Regardless, I do feel good about my life’s progress. I’m somewhat accomplished. I’m self-aware. I’ve assessed what happiness means to me: freedom, love, meaning. I have lived without the security of the box. I have enjoyed life as opposed to be burdened by it.
My AP Lit teacher also wrote on my senior book: “Make waves and conquer.” The message was to not subsume the ways of the system but to be one step ahead.
Indeed. I’m trying.
I wish I had the money and wont carelessness to have planned a nice vacation over winter break. But, alas, I have two goals that are more important to achieve this year: have zero credit card debt (done) and amass half a year’s worth of living expenses for NYC before May (not even close).
So during my staycation thus far, I’ve done a semester’s worth of sleeping, which quickly changed from midnight to 6 am (during the semester) to 3 am to noon. I’ve also caught up on seasons of Lie to Me on Netflix and Fringe on Hulu.
I have written only two poems. (I did, though, submit my work to several journals that take electronic submissions. Ink, paper, and stamps are too costly.) My body does not know what to do with itself. It’s not used to “rest.” Last year, I toured southeast Asia for three weeks and the entire country for a month. My staycation just feels like a bust. I haven’t even maintained my exercise regimen (running, pilates). (In my defense, the holidays shut down my free gym at the cc, and it’s been a blustery below-freezing week.)
I’m getting antsy, yet I cannot seem to get myself out of pajamas and do something productive. I’ve put in zero hours on my course prep for next semester. I have four preps. As alluded to in my previous post, I did, in fact get the fifth class at campus #4 (Comp II). I’ll be whoring myself at four campuses next semester instead of two. I have a shit ton of work to do.
Today, I attempted to wake up before noon and get started on prep work, but I ended up reading poetry and getting trapped in the cyberlinks to chapbook publishing. I also spent a couple of hours on Facebook and subsequent external links. I did check off one to-do item: signing up for Interfolio, a dossier service and emailing references.
Around midnight or so, my brain decided to focus on tasks: adding published articles to my CV, which led me to updating my Goodreads bookshelves (because of a book review I wrote) for another couple of hours. Tomorrow, I need to re-instate my LinkedIn account. I guess getting my cyberworld in order is productive?
Last week, I was geeked about being offered Business Writing and Technical Writing at campus #3, the nearby community college (through email, contingent on an interview). During the interview, both the chair (who will be teaching in London in the spring) and the co-chair greeted me with enthusiasm. As I sat on the couch, they casually asked about my experience teaching at a community college in another state (I loved it, except the hour long drive), if I knew so-and-so in Sociology who died (I did not), what I’m doing now (teaching at campuses #1 and #2), who the dean is at campus #1 (Yes, Bob is still there), who the other one is who deals with transfers (The Associate Dean), me being a poet (why, yes, I am), if I had heard of their journal (I had and am impressed with its quality), and would I be interested in teaching both Technical Writing and Business Writing (of course).
“We will have a better idea of the schedule next week. There has been some recent changes regarding faculty members.”
They casually mentioned that a third class might be available, which I hoped to be a creative writing course. I went home and checked the course schedule, and indeed, there was an unstaffed Introduction to Creative Writing course.
Upon finding this out, I emailed the woman at the pharmacy school to decline my interview, which was scheduled at 1:30p the following day. There were two candidates, she had stated, and there is a possibility of a second section of the researched argumentation class opening. I wrote that I did not want to take the opportunity away from candidate #2, in case he or she has room to cover 2 sections. She wished me luck.
The following Tuesday, I was emailed by the co-chair with an offer for one class (Technical Writing) only. I was confused.
“That is all we can offer at this time.”
I checked the schedule again, and sure enough, the Business Writing course had been offered to someone else, an adjunct faculty with seniority. The creative writing course and a couple of developmental writing courses were still unstaffed, so I emailed the co-chair and chair, indicating how thrilled I was to be offered the Technical Writing course (evening class), that I would be by the next day to pick up the materials and to fill out my new-hire paperwork. I also reiterated my availabilities during the day and asked to be considered for any other open courses.
“There is a section of developmental writing on TR 11:30-12:50p. I assume this is too early for you.”
“No, my class at campus #1 ends an hour before. I’ll have plenty of time to get to your campus for this class.” (Truly, it’s 45 minutes in between and about 20 minutes away without traffic.)
If I ever need an example of desperation to look back upon, here it is. I half-way blame myself for trusting the verbal offer, but I’m livid about their lack of consideration. Why build up my expectations for two, possibly three classes? True, they did not know I was considering another offer, but they wouldn’t have cared. I am disposable, after all.
I considered emailing the woman at the pharmacy school again. She had sent an urgent plea on Wednesday to my MFA program director for applications to fill the position I turned down. I decided against it for my sanity. I cannot put myself through teaching at 3 colleges at faraway locations (north, west, and south of a sprawling metropolitan) with 4 class preps and 5 classes AND expect to job search and prepare for an out-of-state relocation by summer 2011.
I’m only one human.
I haven’t quite checked-out yet, but I’m approaching my limit. I knew 5 classes would consume my life. Already knowing my tendency to over-work myself, I really thought it would be manageable. Besides, lots of adjuncts juggle five courses. Some even have families to maintain.
I calculated how many pages of essays I will have read (bonus points for usage of future perfect tense, lol) by the end of this semester: 55 English Composition I students at 9x(3-pg) papers, 18 Honors Freshman Composition students at 24 pgs, 7 Feature Writing students at 20 pgs. That’s roughly 2,050 pages. This number does not include first drafts and subsequent revisions, in-class freewrites, reader responses, and quizzes. Then there are textbooks (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and countless other resource materials. There is also that minor thing called prep work, office hours, writing consultations, email communication, and various additional accommodations for students with perpetual time-management issues.
While I’m more optimistic about my career now compared to last year, it’s hard not to look at these numbers and deem the whole thing ridiculous. What’s the return, really? Besides feeling “useful” and having some relative impact in the world, there’s not much to hold on to. The wage is low, and there is no health-insurance. There’s also no semblance of job security: due to scheduling conflicts with campus #1 (and campus #2 having 15 sections less of Eng. Comp.), I was not given any courses at campus #2. Being the “last one hired,” I lost.
I’m not sure if I completely buy this excuse, however. The day before I was informed by the English Chair, I had tried to help a student who was looking for her professor. Not knowing who this professor was, I asked the Dean of Humanities whose office was a few doors down. It being an unseasonably warm day, I neglected to realize that I did not have my jacket on. I was already walking in front of the Dean before I thought about my tattoos at the nape of my neck (Venus symbol and Kanji for the four elements). This campus is relatively conservative, so I had attempted to conceal my body art throughout the semester. The only thing visible is my nose ring (common enough), and at times, my Baybayin wrist tattoo.
Nonetheless, I’ve been told that adjuncts getting dropped in the spring semester happens all too frequently as enrollment decreases. I had high hopes of being given at least one section, though.
It’s too bad for campus #2, too, because my students inquired about signing up for my class next semester if I was going to teach English Composition II. (A few joked about following me to campus #1.) Additionally, I just received a great review from a full-time faculty member who was required to observe one of my classes: “Dynamic teacher…students were engaged…and clearly enjoyed class.” He was just as clueless as I was about the purpose of the observation and why it was now being implemented half-way through the semester, especially now that I wasn’t going to be teaching there next semester. I did understand, though, the reason behind this assessment from an administrative standpoint. Being familiar with Higher Ed administration politics from my previous stint in Student Affairs during graduate school, I understand that the trickle of commands is not usually accompanied by explanations. It’s in their best interest to keep the minions in the dark.
As such, I had to scramble, mid-semester, to find another position elsewhere. Thankfully, I was able to land two interviews: one at a 0-6 pharmacy school and another at a nearby community college. I decided to decline to teach researched argumentation at the pharmacy school because of the distance (33 miles away) and frequency (MWF) after the nearby cc offered one section of Business Writing (already full, capped at 25) and one section of Technical Writing (almost at 20). I’m completely enthralled: it’s 2 miles away and the department is amazingly receptive. Maybe such perks will be enough to make up for an increase in number of students and a slight decrease in pay. I’m hoping that they offer a third class, which was hinted at during my interview.
A second blow to my job security is that I will not know if both of my Honors Comp sections at campus #1 will be filled until a couple of weeks before the semester begins. It helps, I suppose, that I’ve worked in several capacities outside of academia (in order of occurrence): dental assistant (story for another time), fast food server, retail clerk, book/music seller, barista, freelance journalist, tutor, special-events coordinator, grant writer, editor, research facility guinea pig, etc.
I picked an opportune time to be an adjunct. There are millions of people without jobs. I willingly quit a job with health-insurance and relative security in exchange for a certain kind of freedom. I’m still confident that I made the right decision. What keeps me going are my students, the potential for growth, and everything I’m learning about myself and the world.
After I resigned from my job at the publisher, I was asked to do a contract gig to help exhibit at a conference (Minimally Invasive Neurological Society) in Mackinac Island, Michigan. What an opportunity!
I wanted to see Michigan because I hadn’t been there since 2007, when I got my Filipino tribal tattoo done by the famous Leo Zulueta who owns Spiral Tattoo in Ann Arbor. Prior to that, I was in Grand Rapids at Camp Miniwanca by the American Youth Foundation in high school. I love that place.
I decided to drive up there because flying would be too costly, and I would have to leave her in St. Louis. Since she would be returning to San Diego soon, leaving her would have been silly.
Also, due to the strict “no extra guests” rules at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac, I booked a room in St. Ignace instead, very close to the water and just as beautiful. I would take the ferry over to the island in the morning.
The first night, we eat at Mackinac Grille, where I have awesome fish boil. I finished that plate!
When we arrive at Mackinac Island, via the Star Line Ferry, we’re not immediately impressed. It smells like horse piss and shit.
I’m stuck in the exhibit for most of the morning and afternoon, but after, we explore the vicinity of the Grand Hotel, which has its own labyrinth, as well as the circumference of the island via a tandem bike.
To try the famous fudge, I get ice cream on the way back to St. Ignace. We have dinner at Driftwood Restaurant and Sports Bar. I go for the seafood pasta, which was delicious.
The next day, after exhibiting, we find the sand dunes on Lake Michigan. We get lost initially, but we are told to keep driving until we see cars on the side of the road. There are no signs. There’s something so freeing about an unofficial beach. The tides were low, so we walked pretty far out into the water. We thoroughly enjoy the afternoon there.
That night, we go shopping for picnic food at a local grocery store. There are fireworks at St. Ignace tonight. At dusk, we take one of our hotel comforters and our food and drinks to the nearest open area by the water. We wait and laugh at our countless adventures.
We head back to St. Louis on Sunday afternoon, after the exhibit gets taken down. I consider a career in sales so I can travel like that. Many of the exhibitors bring their families along and prepare to vacation after work.
Alas, the semester begins in a week. I’m excited and nervous.
Underneath my computer monitor is a 2-year-old acorn. I picked it up on the day I began this desk job as an assistant editor at a medical publisher. I’m not sure why. I don’t have any special attachment to acorns or squirrels. Besides my antibacterial gel, a box of tissue, and snacks, there are no other personal items around my half-cubicle.
I keep it for no particular reason. It has since turned brown, taking only a week. The nut is separated from its base, and whenever I accidentally knock my monitor, the acorn rolls, not unlike how I imagine my head would if I let the tedium of the days get to me.
Perhaps, it’s one reminder to stay calm when my co-workers, who are not at all bad or obnoxious at every moment, seem to congregate around the printer by my desk and divulge every banal detail of their weekend, including but not limited to how the rain flooded the basement—clearly a hyperbole, how the doggies just looked so cute playing at the park, or what financial mishap now further ruined her life.
I could be an acorn, dead with no means of escape or chances of propagating my legacy, my seed, or even quell the perpetual hunger of some transient squirrel. I serve no other purpose but to sit beneath a computer monitor on some dusty desk, next to a stapler.
Maybe that is what a 9-to-5 feels like. Dead or dying. A poet colleague recently sent an email: “I started to die a little each day,” as she tells me about her 9-to-5 before she opted for a life of adjuncting.
I’d been teaching part-time at a community college for a year while working at the publisher, intending to eventually teach full-time so I could escape the silent subversion of the office.
All day, my co-workers toggle back and forth between complaints about how things aren’t done properly at the company and their personal lives, neither of which I’m hardly ever interested. Because I usually try to stay out of office politics and seldom ask questions about goings-on in their lives, my co-workers have described my nature as “detached.” It’s my way of coping and not getting eaten up by the environment while I devise plans to escape.
And my escape plans were gradual: a five-day weekend here and there, three weeks in Southeast Asia in March. Then, upon confirming five classes to teach at two universities in the upcoming fall semester, I wrote my resignation letter, indicating my intention to leave in two weeks. My immediate supervisor was initially flustered as we now have to quickly transition all of my responsibilities to other team members, but she is supportive about pursuing my dreams. She and I had sporadic conversations about having the guts to make such a decision. Being the overworked daughter-in-law of the CEO, she’s felt the same dilemma of staying at a place for the sake of security.
The CEO indicates that my resignation letter was the best one she’s ever received. Once a teacher herself, she is genuinely sad to see me go but supports my decision. Last year, when I began to teach part-time at the community college, I had to drastically change my schedule at the office. I worked 7a-6p M/W and 7a-12p T/R, 8-4 on F. My boss said then, “If it was anybody else, I would have just let [him/her] go or reduced [his/her] status to part-time.” She had, just a month before, fired a project manager. Perhaps it is my work ethic, diversity of skills, or courage that helped me receive such an accommodation. Perhaps it was my low pay.
Regardless, my plan is set. My final escape includes a month-long plan to circumnavigate the country by train (Amtrak).
The goodbyes are bittersweet. I am humbled by a going-away party. My bosses, who hardly ever participate, bought gifts: maps of the US and the Pacific Northwest, a photo album, journals. There are bags of other thoughtful gifts from the rest: traveling paraphernalia, books, more maps, cookies, a lavish cake with evergreen trees and a train.
I will, despite my curmudgeon-like demeanor at times, miss their company. We had a lot of laughs and memories built around camaraderie and team work. There was a certain feeling of warmth in being able to see their faces every morning. Even in routine, I did find comfort, security, and some version of happiness. They had seen me through some rough times, as I had gone through a rather emotionally-jarring break-up the previous year. I received hugs, flowers, and mini-consoling sessions in our kitchenette. They had even seen me transition into the next whirlwind of a relationship. I did, then, also divulge plenty of inane details about my life, in which they seemed interested to hear. I’m eternally grateful.
While I may have more freedom and responsibility in the fall, I will essentially be alone. I’ll have an immensely challenging workload with 5 classes (with 3 preps) and 80 writing students. As I submit myself to an unglamorous life of low pay and no health insurance, I’ll perhaps turn more into that decaying acorn, now placed in my back-pack, which I am taking with me through my travels this summer. Maybe I’ll plant the acorn somewhere and see if life begins somehow.