Friday, April 30, 2010

Contingent Teaching Baggage

OK, I lied. I didn't get to this post last week. Judging by the absence of response to the previous post, none of you were waiting with bated breath for this post anyway. At any rate, here it is.

So when I left off, I was accepting a visiting position in a distant state while still ABD. I then finished my dissertation very quickly. It had taken me some large number of months of work to turn out two chapters, and I finished the remaining chapters (three or four, I don't want to look up how many right now) in about four months. In retrospect, the diss would have benefited from some more time and thought, I think, but I knew I wouldn't be able to work on it while preparing new courses from scratch.

Thus began my six years of contingent teaching, in which I had five different teaching jobs. Some were actually full-time, others were one course. If there are any graduate students out there reading this to get a sense of what things could be like, I feel that I should stress that I was extremely lucky in at least two respects:
1) I spent a while living in a place where many colleges had phenomenally good adjunct pay. Most schools do not pay more than $1500-2000, and I often did much better than that.
2) I have a spouse whose full-time salary and health plan meant I did not have to go without groceries or medical care.

Since I worked at a number of different colleges in somewhat different capacities, my experiences were fairly varied. At some places, I felt pretty well integrated into the department; at others, my office was isolated in a different part of campus, and I hardly saw anyone else from history. At some, I shared an office; at others, I had space to myself. One of the positive aspects of these experiences is that I had the opportunity to see how different colleges and departments work. A lot of my colleagues at my current institution have never worked anywhere else, and I think I have a broader perspective on how higher education works.

A second positive aspect is that I gained a lot of experience. When I finished graduate school, I was rather raw in some respects. I had never taught my own course and I had no publications. That first year, in particular, was something of a crash course (experiential) in teaching. I also did two conference papers that year and started preparing an article for journal submission. In my various jobs, I got a lot of practice prepping new courses, and a lot of opportunities to observe faculty politics. These things have enabled me to step into my current tenure-track position more easily than I moved into my first post-grad-school job.

Things that sucked:
There were quite a few, but I'm going to highlight just three, I think.
  • Very little mentoring. New t-t faculty may get formal mentors; new contingent faculty, not so much. I corresponded with my grad school advisors, but couldn't have one-on-one meetings. I had to figure out a lot of things about teaching, publication, etc., more or less on my own. I asked for advice, and did often get it; but I had to form relationships and ask for help on my own initiative.
  • Double job searches. I spent much of every fall preparing applications for the tenure-track job market. I spent much of the spring making lists of colleges in my area, phoning people, and mailing off copies of my c.v. This was a successful strategy, which did get me hired on several occasions, but it took a lot of time and a heavy emotional toll.
  • Feeling like my life was on hold. It was hard to make plans more than a few months ahead. I avoided making commitments in the area where I lived, because I thought I might be moving in a few months. I seldom had the right combination of money and available time to do more research (again, I often couldn't plan on a summer research trip, because I might need to relocate...). I often felt socially isolated, and I wish I had been more open to developing relationships while living in places I thought of as temporary.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

Judging by the absence of response to the previous post, none of you were waiting with bated breath for this post anyway.

No, it's just that our breath was bated for so long that we passed out and couldn't type. ;-)

Phul Devi said...

I enjoyed both posts -- so, someone is reading! Congratulations on surviving this.

As for mentors: my institution didn't give me one, and it was terrible, trying to figure everything out on my own. There's a lot of bureaucracy here, and expectations were no communicated clearly. I think now we have instituted mentors, but I suspect they do very little. Part of the decentralized nature of the place, I suppose. But I muddled through -- one thing academics are good at, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

I read the other post too and meant to return to post a thoughtful comment once I "had a minute." But then I never had a minute.

We had a formal mentoring program but it was focused mostly on explaining how the college was structured. With lots of pep talks about how we are going to change the world as new profs. Which I didn't mind, really. :) I could have REALLY used, instead, a more specific-to-the-tasks-at-hand mentoring.

Anyway, kudos to you for all that you did on your own!

clio's disciple said...

Sorry to induce temporary asphyxiation, Notorious!

Thanks for the comments, everyone! I will probably have some thoughts on mentoring and my first year on the tenure track sometime this summer.