Another Samhain has come and gone. Last year’s sadness, pain, and obstacles have been banished, and our hopes, wishes, and goals for the New Year have been whispered into the ears of the Goddess and God. Like the seeds and nuts that have fallen from the flowers and tress, I, too, am going underground to rest and prepare. Spring will be here before I know it and I want to be ready. I want to rest and regroup, for the best is yet to come
I spent my last year silently surveying my life, my goals, my happiness … or lack, thereof. I asked myself a lot of difficult questions: do you really, truly like teaching or is it something that you do because “that’s what someone with a doctorate does”? Does this honestly make you happy? Are you even happy? If you didn’t have teaching, what would you like do? Does your research excite you? How do you feel about the future? How do you feel about the present?
My answers to these questions surprised me, as they did many people around me.
I’m miserable and burnt out. I haven’t had a break from teaching in years and years and years. There’s no sabbatical for adjuncts and Instructional Professors. There’s no institutional “buy backs.” When I was an adjunct, I had 35-40 students per class. If I taught three classes I averaged 100 to 120 students a semester. At my current institution I have 70 students per online course. If I were teaching the survey course in the classroom, I would have upwards of 200 students in that class alone. Last Fall, I had almost 300 students. This semester I have 210 students in three online courses that are writing and discussion heavy, as per our SLOs and Core requirements. I know that there are professors out there who will tell me to “suck it up” and that’s “the burden of being a professor.”
I’m sorry, but no. I don’t have the stamina to work 12 hours every, single day. I don’t have the ability to sit and grade … and grade … and grade essays written by students who don’t give a shit about my class and who have told me that they think art history is a “waste of time.” Teaching around 100-120 students a semester is more than manageable for me. Teaching upwards of 210 students is completely insane. Teaching almost 300 students verges on abuse. Add service, and the workload is not manageable despite what the administration thinks. Forget research. Who has time? And research what we love is the whole reason any of us got into academia.
I also don’t have the thick skin for the vicious and biting criticism from 18-21 year olds who think I’m a “bitch” because I won’t make my class “easy.” A number of my students have told me that their advisors told them to take art history because “it’s an easy A.” When students take my class, they are floored by the workload and that they actually need to the work to get an A. I’ve been called rude, horrible, bitchy, uncaring, stupid, crazy, and many other things. I’ve always gotten one or two horrible, vindictive evaluations when I was an adjunct. At my current university the number has increased quite a bit and not because I changed anything about my courses. Matter-of-fact, I’ve made them more accessible and much more focused. I’ve become a better teacher … but how would I know? I haven’t had a peer review in over three years. No, I’m not kidding.
The amount of students I teach every semester, the student complaints, the grade grubbing, the manipulation, the amount of service, the inability to find time to research and write, and institutional-wide politics have made me loath teaching … at least in the capacity as full-time faculty.
With all of this said, I’m leaving my full-time Instructional Assistant Professor gig. I submitted my letter of resignation last Thursday. I’m on contract until May, and acknowledged this in my letter. I told them that I would stay to see out the academic year, unless they wanted to break the contract in January. I heard from my department chair: this is my last semester.
I’m leaving academia, as least in the role of full-time teaching. While I will probably continue to adjunct at universities here in NYC, I am not looking for another full-time instructional or tenure track position. Instead, I’m applying to Queens College, CUNY to get my Masters in Library Science with a certificate in archival conservation and preservation. My goal is to work with the paper object — books, periodicals, prints, cheap printed ephemera, etc. I’m not quite sure where that will lead me, but I’m hoping in an archive or a museum department that focuses on ephemera. My application is due in April and, if accepted, I’ll start classes at the end of August.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to teach people what I know and what I’m passionate about. I can see myself giving tours at a museum or historic site. What I can’t see myself doing is spending the rest of my life teaching 18-21 year olds a subject in which they aren’t interested and need to take for graduation. I can’t see myself grading … and grading … and grading … and grading hundreds of papers and essays a semester. And I certainly can’t see myself selling my soul and health for tenure.
I want a job where I’m handling the object every day. I want a job where I’m researching this or that print technology. I want a job dealing with rare manuscripts, books, or historic papers. I want a job that I go to, spend 8 to 10 wonderful hours with people who are cool and who I like, doing really interesting things. And then I want to go home. No grading or lesson plans, that is if I’m not adjuncting a class here or there because I want to. I want to do my research and writing. I want to paint and pursue my art. I want to spend time with the people I love.
Why the “sudden” change? Well, this summer really put things into perspective for me. The transient nature of life and my own health really hit home, as we laid yet another wonderful parent to rest and as I spent my entire summer trying to recover from major surgery. I’m 46 … my life is halfway over if I live to see my 90s, more than halfway if I don’t. I don’t want to waste my time on something that is making me miserable. I want balance … and that’s exactly what I asked for this Samhain. Balance.