Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Should I stay or should I go now?

Ah, The Clash, not the most brilliant of music, but the words light on the reality of my life.
If I stay there will be trouble...
but if I go there will be double.
Reality check: actually I'm quite free at the moment. We don't need the money. I mean need need. My wife is making sufficient income for now to support us comfortably. Even though she expects to take off (indefinitely?) after #3 is born around the beginning of February, we've got decent savings (thanks in large part to the real estate bubble that allowed us to realize a handsome profit from our tiny condo in Paradise, which we bought only because the cost of owning at that time was comparable to the cost of renting; and also which allowed us to realize a not-so-handsome, but still respectable profit on our house in Denver, which might have been more handsome if we had gotten out several months or a year earlier). It was luck mostly... that and a good deal of careful budgeting and money management. But I fully realize that having money in the bank does not in any way make us better people (nor reflect our inherent higher quality) than say my comrades-in-arms adjuncts who don't. But this is my reality; the one in which I operate.

Back to The Clash, if I stay at Lemon, the trouble is mostly of the psychic variety. It's wearing to willingly subject myself to the conditions that are imposed on adjuncts at Lemon. It's a constant struggle between my conscience reflecting a desire to be a really good teacher, and my conscience which wants to be treated with the dignity and respect I feel I deserve. There is little dignity in being overworked and underpaid, in being forced to eat my lunch in the hallways, because I haven't access to an office but one day per week, in having to choose between giving grades to students based on a perfunctory glance, or spending all my time grading.

And what of my business? What time do I really have left for that? What would be the function of remaining?
  1. There may have been an implied agreement that I'd teach for the whole year. But then, the institution chose to give me a one-term contract. So... who implied what? (Bait and switch, anyone?)
  2. Remaining may facilitate my continuing ability to get glowing letters of recommendation from Sara Chaisano ("It will be our loss if he moves on to another teaching position." Hard for her to say, if I've already left).
  3. Assuming I do get a tenure-track gig to begin next fall, the added recent experience teaching these two courses would facilitate the transition.
But, it sucks up so much of my time and energy. I have spent three years begging and groveling for a faculty post that I retain little faith that this season will miraculously prove otherwise (though there is that voice in me that still believes, that thinks ah, but now I've got letterhead, I've got a job at a university, that's got to count for something). This leaves me in an uncomfortable position. If I am still committed (at least one last time) to pursuing a tenure-track post, perhaps there is benefit in my remaining at Lemon for another term.

But part of me wants to just let it go. Part of me wants to leap, with my family, into that great unknown. I want to build my research firm. I want to hire these programmers (part-time for now), and spend some of our savings to build this firm. I want to simply trust that the 18 months or three years (depending on where we live, and how we manage the money) that our savings can sustain us, will be more than enough for my research to start turning a profit.

It's scary. It's uncertain. But are the certainties I'm given much better? Nothing in the world is worth wasting our lives. No amount of certainty is worth getting stuck, on a track defined by no one but circumstance. The wind blows of its own accord. It is on us to trim the sails.


apparently said...

The reality is that even with a tenure track job, the amount of time spent on teaching can completely consume your day. And if you are expected to do substantial research the "work day" extends to the evening and weekends and beyond. In the end you are still working for much less than you are worth (in terms of $ per hour of work). Don't get me wrong - I absolutely positively appreciate the benefits and security of a t-t job. I agree 100% that adjuncts are treated incredibly poorly and the avoidance of paying for benefits and legitimate wages is a complete scam pulled by colleges. But I am trying to make a point and the point is - If (and this is a big if that only you can figure out) you want to try for that t-t job again, then you probably need to figure out a way to dramatically reduce the amount of time you spend on prep and grading. (assuming of course you are looking at schools that encourage and support research - that is my best guess of your preference). So if you do decide to stay with Lemon (an appropriate title, no?) think of it as your opportunity to get teaching nailed down to a minimum time-suck with maximum rewards (both for your own personal enjoyment and maximum evaluations scores). Figure out a way to reduce the amount of time you spend grading and preparing - not because Lemon sucks or because being an adjunct sucks (though both might very well be true) - but because you need to do that to be successful in a t-t position anyway.

apparently said...

geez that is a really long comment, sorry for being a space hog (twice now)

ArticulateDad said...

Thank you, apparently. Yeah, that's sort of the conclusion I'm coming to. Is that even what I want anymore? That's the question. And, if it is, under what circumstances do I want it?

As I said to Rocket last night, if teaching won't allow me to help my students be their best, if it won't allow me the time and energy to interact with them individually, read their essays, write responses, nudge them, goad them, inspire them... then what's the point? If teaching under conditions of having too many students or too many classes, won't permit me to spend the time needed to really make a difference in these students' lives, then it's not teaching that I recognize, not teaching that has much meaning for me.

My job will never be to stand in front of a sea of faces, spouting facts that they are to memorize and regurgitate. There's nothing worthy in that enterprise.

There's a tiny bit of cynicism (or is it pragmatism) in your comment. Sure, I can "figure out a way to reduce the amount of time [I] spend grading and preparing." Prep time goes down each time I teach the same material. But grading... the only real way to reduce that is to spend less time per student; and less time short-changes them. That's the dilemma of which I wrote: who do I short-change today?

And the more I think of it, the more I feel like simply leaving the circumstance, letting someone else deal with the crisis of conscience. I think of my attitude toward guns. There are occasions when two parties have guns, each pointing at the other. There's surely right and wrong in the minds of each one. Most likely one will shoot first, and the other will die. I'd rather not be either one! In fact, I'd rather not even stand by and watch.