Transitions, Transitions

I’ll be completing my third year and beginning my fourth in higher education later this week; as a matter of fact, Facebook reminded me just yesterday that I was offered my current job exactly three years ago, and I started later that same week (this is my “day job” I’m talking about – teaching is connected-but-separate). The past three years have been…interesting. As in, “May you live in interesting times,” as a curse interesting. There’s been a lot more drama than I would have liked, and a LOT more heartbreak, but I just keep using my heart and my intellect to inform my decisions (heart first, but tempered by intellect), and I do the best I know how to.

The idea of transitions has been on my mind because I’ve had a pretty big shakeup in my staff; several people have resigned, and several others have taken semesters off. I’m struggling to remind myself that this is completely normal; I have tried on purpose to hire mainly students, and students are not supposed to stay on campus indefinitely. Something I say all the time is, “This is not intended to be anyone’s full-time permanent job – not even mine.” Staff turnover is the name of the game; students come and work for a while, and then they graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives. Some of them try to stay on – there are enough universities within an easy commuting distance to my campus that some people do manage to be students at other colleges while still working with me – but most of them go on to find good jobs on their current campuses (and I highly encourage that; trying to manage schedules on one campus is hard enough). And that’s as it should be: one of the defining factors of the college experience is that it’s meant to be transitional. Theoretically, students come to college to learn to think critically and become self-reflective (regardless of major area of study, I truly feel that these two activities are at the core of any college experience, although the increasing focus on vocational programs seems designed at least in part to shove those activities out of the spotlight), and once they become comfortable with that, they are ready to move on to the next phase of using those skills for their own purposes. That’s what’s supposed to happen; they’re not supposed to remain students forever.

I hope that’s reflected in the way I’ve treated outgoing staff members. Although I do miss them, of course, I’ve been a lot more proud than disappointed when my staff members have moved on to bigger and better things, and I always tell them so. “I can’t even be mad that you’re leaving,” I say, “Because this is an amazing opportunity for you, and I’m so proud of you.” And I mean every word.

At the same time, I think another part of the reason this is on my mind is also because I’m feeling very trapped, in a way. As I said, my job has been very, very interesting, and not always in a good way. I didn’t intend for it to be a permanent job when I took it; it was supposed to be a stepping-stone to bigger and better things for me as well. My passion is teaching, and I want a spot on the tenure track so badly I can taste it – the main reason I took the “day job” is because part-time teaching offers no benefits or job security, and I’ve got to have health insurance at a bare minimum; my health is not such that I can afford to be without insurance. Three years isn’t a long time, but I still feel stuck in this transitional phase. When I first started in higher education, I didn’t think it would be very long before I’d be able to make the jump from “wage slave” to “full-time professor,” but I now know the “dirty secret” in higher education is that full-time opportunities are few and far between. I applied for a couple of full-time faculty positions this past spring, and I didn’t even warrant an interview for either. I’ve also applied for a better-paying staff gig; no word there either. I think that’s why I’m frustrated; I feel very stuck in this transition place. I think I’m ready to move on, but the opportunities just aren’t there to move into.

This feeling has been surprisingly familiar. I remember being a student in college and being very frustrated with the pace of my completion. I had a couple of semesters where dragging my sorry self to class was quite difficult, because things weren’t going the way I wanted them to. I used to frustrate very easily, especially with repetition: “I already know how to do this,” I’d say, “Why do I have to do it again?!?” Now that I’m “on the other side of the desk,” I do see the value in repetition, and if I could make the kind of money in my “day job” that I’d be making teaching, I’d probably be far more content to stay.

Maybe that’s the larger problem. I’ve often said that I’d happily be a student forever, but I just can’t afford to. I have also said that I’d happily teach for free if I didn’t need the money. So maybe my frustration is more for a system in which I am not financially allowed to do the work I love. I’m so tired of shoving my teaching into nooks and crannies of time left over from my “day job” that is ostensibly 40 hours a week, but in reality, I’m on call continuously. I need the “day job” to survive, but I need teaching to thrive, and it’s becoming harder and harder to do both without burning out (I often say I’m burning the candle at both ends and in the middle, and I truly feel that way). I could rant and rail at “the system” all day, and it still wouldn’t change anything; I didn’t make the rules, and they’re not going to change just because I want them to.

I usually like these essays to have some sort of resolution – in other words, in the examination of something, I’ve actually managed to work through it and come to terms with it. And in a way, I suppose I have with this issue too; I have plans on the books to petition for a salary increase for myself (based on the fact that I’ve been working above and beyond my job description since Day 1), and if that doesn’t pan out, I’ll be on the job market seriously in the spring of 2019. It’s sad because I don’t want to leave where I am, but I don’t feel like I can afford to stay very much longer either. And maybe that’s the point: maybe I am ready for the next phase.

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My Dysfunctional Relationship with Teaching

Note: I think this post will address the “length since last musing” question without any further explanation.

Shawn Sheehan, who was the 2016 State Teacher of the Year in Oklahoma, has often been quoted recently as saying that “Teaching in Oklahoma can feel like being in a dysfunctional relationship” (Source). I have been thinking about this a lot recently in terms of my own relationship to my chosen profession, but something happened last week that has intensified my thinking.

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Meta-Post: What Has Liz Been Up To?

My goodness! I didn’t realize it had been so long since I’d posted. Bad Liz! No cookie for you!

The realization that I hadn’t checked in over here in awhile naturally begs the question of “Why?” and I have a not-great-but-understandable reason: I’ve been busy! My last post was last May, and around the first of June, my Day Job announced that our project was wrapping up, and layoffs would be on the way. This, of course, sent me into Super Panic Mode, and many, many balls were dropped while I scrambled to find another Day Job. Fortunately, I succeeded: In late July, I was hired by a local community college as an Adjunct Professor of English, and in mid-August, the same school brought me on full-time to direct their tutoring program! Tutoring is the standard 40 hours per week, and teaching is a nominal 10 hours (“nominal” because I’m teaching English Composition; no way will I get everything done in ten hours per week). So let’s see: 40+10=50, then add in the 45-minute commute each way…lemme see here…that’s about 60 hours or so per week. Whew!! No wonder I haven’t had much time or energy for blogging!

However, I just renewed my domain for another year, and (as always), that should inspire a lot more writing from me. There’s a lot going on currently that is worthy of discussion and analysis (as always), and I’ve been making some more time to read lately (which could mean book reviews might be a new feature). This all aside from the fact that I’m going to be thirty-six this year (which means I’ll have been a legal adult for exactly half my life; yes, there are plenty of mixed feelings surrounding this event).

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, so I can save my typing fingers for more interesting topics.

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Writing for Money

In direct defiance of my stated rules (which can be found here), this post isn’t particularly timely. Everything I’m going to talk about happened awhile ago – some of it quite a few years ago. It’s still on my mind, though; I thought of it just a few moments ago while working on some housecleaning chores, and I had some new insights that I thought merited an essay. After all, these are my rules, and I know them like a pro, so I can break them like an artist.

I’ve been thinking lately – I’m not entirely sure why – about the phenomenon of crowdfunding, especially as it relates to writing. I’ve contributed to several crowdfunded writing projects that have “made it,” and I’ve pledged to several others that have not. I have no doubt I’ll do it again; these crowdfunding projects are often the only way I get to read cool stuff that I want to read.

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A New Celtic Earworm

One of the best parts of my job is that we are allowed (and even encouraged) to listen to music while we work. Of course, I’ve listened to all sorts of albums in a variety of genres, as my tastes are somewhat eclectic, but I’ve also spent time listening to Pandora and catching up on podcasts. I’ve had trouble working and listening to spoken-word podcasts and staying focused on my work, but I’ve had fun listening to music-based shows. One of my favorites is The Irish and Celtic Music Podcast; I don’t love every song, but in the time I’ve been listening, there have been six songs that I’ve liked well enough to purchase (that doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’m really picky about what I’ll buy, since I have other recordings of many traditional tunes – how many versions of “Calliope House/The Cowboy Jig” or “She Moves Through the Fair” does one person need, after all?). Continue reading

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Variations on a Theme: Clearing the Decks

On my last birthday, I chose a word to serve as a personal theme for the next six months (here’s a link to that post). I chose that time frame because I had some very specific things I wanted to accomplish, and I knew several of those things had deadlines near the end of the year. In addition, I knew that I tend to get reflective at both my birthday and New Year’s, and it seemed a natural time to close the “DreamCatcher” chapter of my life and begin something new, even if that new thing was less structured than the previous thing. I’m really proud to report that I caught my two biggest dreams: I finished my thesis and graduated for real, and I found a job that pays better and that I really enjoy.

I’ve decided to choose another theme for the next six months, and I’ve decided to specifically limit myself to six months again, because there are some other specific things I want to accomplish in this specific time frame. My deadlines are more self-imposed this time, but there are some external factors at play as well.

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The End of an Era, Part 2

Last night I talked a little bit about the sense of loss I feel now that I’ve finished my degree, and how that has me feeling like I don’t know quite who I am anymore (here’s the link to that). The post was awfully short (by my standards), and I didn’t feel like I’d explored what I wanted to say to my own satisfaction. I also have a few informal guidelines for the little essays I share on this site, and that post missed the mark on a couple of counts (more details about that are here).

The biggest piece that I missed is that I like for whatever the current issue is to lead into a discussion of a more general nature – I want to move from the specific into the general and look at the big picture. Last night’s post didn’t do that, mainly because I’d been awake for over 24 hours, and my brain was mush.

So last night I talked about my realization that my professional identity was completely made up of my status as a student, and now that I’m graduating, I’m not sure quite who I am anymore. Today I want to look at the bigger picture, about identity in general. This post is a direct continuation of yesterday’s; they are intended to be read one after the other, starting with yesterday’s, as one coherent essay.

I wonder if the sense of loss I’m feeling is similar to the way retirees feel? Retirement is similar to graduation in many ways – in both cases, the person in question is experiencing a major life change, and the types of things he or she typically does are changing drastically (usually resulting in that person enjoying more free time). Being a student is a full-time job in and of itself, after all, and it’s been easy to explain why I’m working in an industry that is totally unrelated to my education by saying, “Well, I’m also a full-time student,” in the same way that a retiree might explain his or her part-time job as a barista by saying that he or she is also retired. Now that I’ve graduated, it feels like I need to come up with justification as to why I am underemployed (and somehow it’s worse to be underemployed with a Master’s than it was to be underemployed with just a Bachelor’s). Continue reading

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The End of an Era

This morning (well, technically it was yesterday morning, but I just got off work not too long ago, and I haven’t slept yet, so to me it’s still today) I successfully defended my Master’s thesis. I’ve still got a couple more little things to do, but this was the last big hurdle; I’m definitely graduating this semester (basically, next week).

After I found out I passed, someone asked me how it felt to be done. I said, “Amazing!” or something of that sort, and in that moment, it was the absolute truth. After all, my current theme is “DreamCatcher,” and I’ve certainly been dreaming of this day for a long time; making it my reality is an amazing feeling.

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Positively Speaking

This may not be much of a revelation, but I am a person of strong opinions. There are some things I like (pizza, books, the Chicago Cubs), and there are some things I don’t like (onions, getting up early, country music). If I’m asked for my opinion, I am not one to mince words or shy away. At the same time, I try to word most of my opinions as positively as I can. I try to say, “I don’t really care for that,” rather than, “I don’t like that,” or “That really sucks.”

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Baked Chicken and Scrambled Eggs: Assessment Testing Run Amuck

This is your brain on testing.

This is your brain on testing.

I’ve written before about how assessment testing in the workplace has altered my point of view on standardized testing in schools. To summarize, although I still think basing a student’s (or more to the point, that student’s teacher’s) entire future on one test taken on one day is, to put it mildly, insane, I am no longer able to base this belief on the idea that testing creates a completely artificial situation in school that is unrepresentative of what a high-school graduate will face in the workplace.

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