Every week, I pull up the listings on the Chronicle. The people on the Chronicle forum, who are sometimes a bit cheeky, have a saying: Apply for the Damned Job. I do.
In 2010, a few years after the economy crashed, I graduated with my PhD in English. I know. I know. For those in the know, it's a tough field. It is. Last year, for every applicant, in my particular field, I joined 600-700 other applicants applying for the same job. I agree. Crazy, baby. Why do it? Why try?
I got my PhD on a bit of a lark, really. I knew I wanted to do it, but mainly, I wanted to start a new life, away from a bad relationship and somewhat contentious family issues. I moved to warm climate. Lots of sun. I had a lovely time the first few years, going to class, something I'm very good at doing. I'm good at writing papers, meeting deadlines, thinking. I'm very good at thinking. ha ha. Yeah. I know the kind of rejoinder that will get. But, at any rate, I was a champ at being a student. If it were a career, I'd be a CEO. I really like research, and libraries kick butt.
Then, I stepped into a classroom.
It was love at first sight.
I love teaching. I'm incredibly good at it. Seriously. I like creating syllabi. I love the subject matter. Mainly though, I like working with the students. I like helping the students. I like hearing what the students have to say. Nothing is better than helping someone realize his or her dreams, and teaching does that. Nothing is more wonderful for me than the moment that a student turns to me, thrilled to have discovered something in the literature that is new for them and if I'm lucky, new for me, too. I love hearing students argue with each other (in a good, critical way, of course) over a point in an essay. I like that moment of discovery. Even more amazing, if I'm really doing my job well, it isn't even about me doing my job. It's about the student discovering his or her own strengths and weaknesses. I become almost invisible, while the student excels. It's really a terrific job.
But, getting a job teaching at college level is a tough experience. Or, rather, getting a job that isn't an adjunct job, where you may or may not get an offer in the next semester, based on the money the department has or on the whimsy of the person in charge, that's the tough part. Last semester, to make ends meet, I worked nine adjunct jobs. Nine. To make everyone understand what this means, I worked about 70 hours a week, making about 5 dollars per hour and some cents. Right now, I have four adjunct jobs. I work about 40 hours a week, making 6 dollars an hour or so. I don't have any benefits. Medical bills for regular things completely crucify my life.
This year, the job situation is mildly better. I'm only competing against 400 to 500 people this year. It isn't possible to send out more than three to four applications per week, because most application processes for these jobs are very, very complicated. They want a CV, a cover letter, transcripts, a teaching statement, syllabi based on their criteria, statements about diversity, examples of classes, papers, and so on. They want the letter and all materials tailored to their school. The community colleges require at least two hours more, to transcribe your entire CV, which you will then send to them separately, into their online human resources system.
I've gotten nibbles both years, for full time positions, but nothing is set yet. And in this position, I have only one more year before I should probably give up, according to many at the Chronicle, where my peers discuss these matters. After three years, with graduation a memory, I'll probably have to start looking in other directions. I guess it's a little silly. It could be a lot, lot worse, but it breaks my heart all the same.
I have an impressive CV, if I do say so myself. I've got great editing experience, good research experience, and nine years of adjunct experience, teaching at some very good schools. I'm prepared to work for the student, the school, and the community. I want to do it. I'm good at it.
Recently, Dominos sent out hiring applications with a pizza I ordered. I kept the application. I started looking at administrative jobs more closely. I do have a plan. I plan to keep working.
In class, my students say things like, "Oh, the unemployed are lazy. They don't want to work. They aren't smart enough to make enough money. I know someone who lives off of the system." So, I teach them ethos, logos, and pathos. I present them with statistics that directly contradict their assumptions. I challenge them to write papers based on fact and not talking points. I never, ever talk about my own political beliefs. It's their show. They have to decide these things for themselves. They have to make their own discoveries. As I said, it's best when I can get them to talk to each other, as well as with me. It's a weird feeling that I have, to have found a calling and a career, and not be able to follow it fully. I guess it's life. It may be that I'll have to go make a difference somewhere else, in some other way. In the meantime, I have papers to grade tonight and discussions on Blackboard to follow. And a class on Monday. That's something. I'm luckier than many.