Last year, I “ended” my college teaching career with a bang–a banging headache, that is, from the copious amounts of sugar I packed down at the surprise party my students threw me on my last day of class at OSU. It was an emotionally-charged day amidst an emotionally-charged time that I will never forget. In the year that followed, because my professional future was so unstable, I vowed to take every opportunity given to me, even if that meant working multiple jobs.

I did, and it did–by the time Fall 2013 rolled around, I was taking on a larger client roster for my coaching practice, I was writing weekly for Slate, and I’d signed on to teach three classes back at the UMSL honors college, where I had had an overwhelmingly positive experience right out of grad school. It turned out to be quite a full docket, and on many days this past year, I found myself starting work at about 8:30 a.m. and finally shutting down for the day at 10:30 at night. As a result of my spread-out priorities–and of the grim realities of adjuncting after being full-time faculty for two years–my relationship with teaching in what turned out to be my real final year of it was far more complicated than it ever had been.

So now, as I finish submitting my last-ever (probably) set of grades to the Registrar, and my academic career ends with a whimper, I am trying to sort out what feels like a disconnected and discombobulated tangle of feelings. Here are a few of them.

Relief. I am relieved to be down to two jobs instead of three, and the amount of “spare” time I have now that I am no longer prepping for class (or doing the bare-minimum level of grading I let myself do as an adjunct) is astounding. I mean, I’m writing this right now, instead of sweating bullets for multiple deadlines at once. I’ve already filed two articles this week, and worked through changes on a third. I won’t be rolling in dough, but I can definitely survive on my freelance income alone now, which is equal parts nerve-wracking and exhilarating. But mostly, I’m just relieved to no longer be so damned frazzled all the time.

Heartbreak. I had a Slate piece yesterday where I went to the mat for the academic freedom of a truly putrid individual (you’re welcome, jerk!), and so I thought that since the article wasn’t about me or my many failures (or bluntly honest assessments of academia’s shortcomings and my complicity in said shortcomings), I’d take a gander at the comments to see if there were any gems from the Tea Party. (Yes, I hate-read comments from conservatives for fun. Every time another state legalizes marriage equality, my first stop is for some Schadenfreude at Yahoo! News).

But seriously. NEVER READ COMMENTS. EVER. One said: “This doesn’t apply to you, Rebecca, because you will never, ever, ever, ever [THREE EVERS] get tenure, because you hate teaching far too much.” Look, this is just the assholish assholery of a trolly troll, but in the past year I’ve met (and “met”) many people who agree with him. Every time I write something that’s honest about what professors actually deal with–essays, the powerpoints, the diminished learning conditions adjuncting creates, grade inflation–the response is always YOU SHOULD NEVER TEACH AGAIN BECAUSE YOU SUCK AT IT SO MUCH.

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I cannot possibly express how much this hurts. Yes, I have been blunt and honest about some of the shortcomings of the academic status quo (and my participation in those shortcomings). But to say that the professoriate is better off without me, even if it’s just some asshole who’s never met me or been in my class, feels like my insides are being ripped out.

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It’s quite true that in the past year, I haven’t been as dedicated to being a professor as I once was. That was out of self-preservation. Dedication to the Life of the Mind as an adjunct is simply too enabling of an exploitative system to do it in good conscience.

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But even with all of that, I am still a good professor. Was. Was a good professor. Everybody has a gift. Mine was being in a classroom with students. Like so many of you who read this blog, I felt an electric current when I taught, that ran through the students and me. I was home in the classroom. I cared–deeply and passionately–about my students’ learning experience, and whether or not they learned. I was willing to meet with any student about anything (though most did not seek me out). I read draft after draft after draft of papers, so that I could “front-load” their feedback, and they could turn in their best work for a grade. Yes, sometimes I was disappointed in students and made them do yoga or Burpees when they got lethargic; sometimes I reading-quizzed them and evil-raffled them and otherwise made their lives unpleasant. But I also yelled “YESSSSSSSS! GREAT!!!!!!! WHY?” at least five times a class, and did my goddamnedest to create an environment where even the shy kids, even the kids who normally hated to read, felt valued, and present, and wanted, and a part of things.

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But it doesn’t matter what I say now. Nobody will ever see me in the classroom again, and so I will have no way to prove my detractors wrong. They will just keep saying these awful things, and I will no longer have a “my students” story to shut them down. I am afraid that I will eventually start to believe, myself, that I was a terrible teacher who hated it. I am afraid that I am starting to believe it even now, because it’s been said so much, and now I don’t know what to think.

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I had a student come up to me on the last day of class this year. She’d been in my class both semesters, and had encountered a few struggles, all of which she overcame with great tenacity and good sprits. She said to me: “I just want you to know that if it weren’t for the way you teach, I would have failed out of my first year of college.” I hope that she sends me a ticket to her graduation, when she crosses that stage to become a K-12 science teacher. I hope that her words–and all of the fun notes I got from students with their final papers (“Thanks for a great year!” “Wishing you the best!” “It was great being in your class!”) stay with me. I really hope they do. Because I am not going to stop being honest about the challenges educators and students face–and assholes are not going to stop telling me that I’m the problem, that I was the problem, good riddance.

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I just hope you know–whoever you are, reading this–that I was a wonderful professor. I was. I don’t care if that sounds self-aggrandizing. I belonged in that classroom. I loved those students–and I expressed my love through crazily dedicated class plans and through my relentless honesty about academia in print.

I am slated to return for one class in the Spring, but am very much hoping to be too pregnant by then to do it (everybody please keep your fingers crossed for my successful sexual intercourse with my husband! SO GROSS, right? How is it that when people are “trying” it suddenly becomes TOTALLY OK to talk to complete strangers and family members about fucking? Ha).

So, in reality, I don’t know if I will ever teach again. And although I am relieved to be down to a manageable two jobs, and excited to go 100% freelance (SWEATPANTS ONLY FOREVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!), I am still heartbroken at ending my teaching career, and even more heartbroken at the vitriolic cries of those ecstatic to see me go.

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56 thoughts on “A Whimper

  1. In response to trolly-mctrollface: what does teaching have to do with tenure? Or getting professorial jobs in the first place? Seriously. Stay out of higher-ed comments sections until you can riddle me that.

    In response to the rest of it: I feel for you, about the teaching and the suffering. I know you didn’t write this as sympathy bait, but you’ve got mine anyway. Reading your stuff has been helpful for me, whether it was “Stop Saying Not Everybody is Suited to Academia” or the consistent pointing out the emperor’s lack of clothes on Slate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rebecca — Congratulations on the exit from academia. I know what it feels like to be giving up teaching, which you and I both found quite gratifying. It’s a bittersweet experience, walking away from a career that you’ve trained for over decades. But in the long run (and hell, even in the short- to medium-run) you’ll find that this was the right move. My only regret, as I’ve said many times, is that I didn’t do it ten years ago. I predict that you’ll soon discover that you’d internalized more craziness than you had thought, and it’s a liberating feeling to free yourself from it. -Zac

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rebecca, please please please PLEASE don’t internalize those fuckwits who don’t know you. Instead, internalize the people who do and don’t know you who think you are an amazing person, and internalize the comments from your students who know you as a professor and love you as a professor. Keep your best evals, save them, and read them when you are feeling the negative creep. The profession is better off for having had you, and students are worse off without you.

    ALL. THE. HUGS.

    P.S. Yes, totally gross, and whenever someone tells me they are pregnant, I immediately have a brain flash of the secks. It’s not my favorite. I’m so American with my prudishness.

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  4. Lady. Your articles this past year have been a great joy in my life. Bonus, because you are even freer with the cussing and back talk than I am in meetings / my blog, you make me seem like a moderate, so thanks for that.

    You’re right about most things, and it’s brave to call it like you see it. You do the profession a favour by noting when it is not, in fact, wearing pants. Carry on, err, having sex in a procreative way.

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    1. Big ditto to Aimee. She’s the best channeler of Rebecca on our blog, but I gotta tell ya: my most read posts are the rabble rousing ones about the state of grad studies, and you’re who inspired them.

      Wishing you speedily knocked up and in need of bigger sweatpants!

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  5. Reblogged this on A Very Long Apprenticeship and commented:
    This is a wonderful–and heartbreaking–essay by Rebecca Schuman about leaving teaching. She is consistently one of the best and clearest critics of higher ed in mainstream media. If you don’t know her work, use this essay as a springboard, not only to better understand (adjunct) educators’ many problems, but also to glimpse at the torrent of bullshittery one faces–both within and outside academia–when daring to critique the system.
    (But seriously: Haters to the left.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That comment section was INSANE! I read a few and it was all “but feminism IS the worst! We SHOULD protect heterosexual marriage!” I was trying to procrastinate, but reading those was actually worse, I had to give up. Do not listen to those crazy, incredibly annoying people. Listen to the students who really know you and whose lives you’ve changed for the better. They’re the experts here.

    Good luck with the sex and babies, and until then, enjoy having one less job! Think of it as a graduation all over again, not a loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You have not ceased to be an educator– ironically (given your departure and stand on MOOCs), a fabulously successful and trailblazing one online!!!

    You’ve schooled academia while giving many others hope–and good humor (and respective doses of reality) to all. The community and conversation you’ve created is nothing to sneeze at.

    All this said, I share and understand your sorrow. It’s my last time teaching, too. It’s really hard to leave. Your own path gives me hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Welcome to the end of the teaching road, for now. Thanks from those of us who are still approaching it, for showing us what it looks like. Thanks especially for showing in your writing that teaching is hard, exhausting work, especially when you care about your students.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I understand the feeling that the adjunct game is exploitative, and your feeling that you have to give it up. But there’s another way to adjunct, and that’s to have a main “day job” that’s a real career and pays what you need. Then you teach on the side. You only teach once every few years, and it can be exhausting even at that frequency, but you get the fun of teaching without the angst of needing the money. If your job in the field in which you teach (like you’re teaching writing and you’re a writer or an editor), so much the better; you’re an expert from the “real world” rather than a professor from the Ivory Tower. I hope you’ll be able to give this a try someday!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Come back, Rebecca Schuman—you raised the level of academia by your presence, we need you, I understand why you’re going, your Slate stuff outdone EVERYONE else on the issues you covered in understanding, depth, critical perspective: just smarts! Come back!

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      1. I’m surprised to hear you say that, actually (that if it weren’t for the psychological torture you’d go back on the market…and the rest of academia?).

        On another note, I’d love to know a bit more about your own cultural-intellectual trajectory with German studies: when/how did you learn the language (& get so good at i!!), get introduced to the literature, arrive at your specific focus. It’s something I’ve wondered–perhaps you’ve written about it in years earlier on this blog, not sure.

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      2. It’s actually something I’m writing about in a longer book project (though my own personal journey will not appear in it all that much). For some reason I don’t really like talking about my personal journey to German scholarship–I never have, even when I wanted to be a German prof. It’s very private to me, I think–almost like asking me really intimate details about how I met and fell in love with my husband.

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  11. I feel your feeling in my bones as I enter the third year of a VAP job and I may not have students after this coming year. Teaching is so personal–it’s between you and your students. And I think the hardest part about academia is that the job for which you are most understood (teaching) is the part that is least valued and most hidden. You are teaching plenty of people in your writing–don’t forget that. And hoping you have a relaxed summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I know you know this, and I’m willing to bet that if I weren’t being lazy and actually read the comments here, someone(s) else has already posted this, but I’m going to say it anyway: anyone who thinks that someone isn’t getting tenure because they “aren’t a good teacher” (especially when they clearly are) is either completely deluded or just has no idea how tenure works or how messed up the academic system is at this point. I’m sure your students will be the first to tell anyone who asks that the profession is worse off for losing you.

    I might need to hate-read some comments now.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Rebecca: I think you’re great. There is a reason why people don’t speak up to the (misguided, contorted, corporatised) establishment: they have power and supporters. And power over opinion, apparently.

    Ignore them.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It sounds like you’re students love you. Even for those who didn’t say so, I’m sure you were a positive influence on them. Don’t worry about the critics; you reap what you sow in this life, and far more in heaven. How’d you like UMSL? I’m going there now. It’s pretty rad.

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  15. Teaching can be hard. I sympathize. Though, I will say that I wish I had instructors/professors, especially in my creative writing field who could do what you did: make a student feel valued. Instead, in my own experiences with my creative writing instructors, I came away questioning my own worth not only as a writer but as an individual. This was mainly due to the fact that nearly all the instructors I had for the subject (except one) wanted their students to do some kind of literary fiction. Essentially, slice of life work about ordinary people doing ordinary things and yet somehow it’s supposed to be deep. Never really understood any of that. My thinking is that we read fiction in order to look into a world that isn’t real: escape reality if you will. I wrote a few posts about my own experiences about this over at my own blog. Just had to say all of that upfront.

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  16. It’s obvious & factual that you can’t please everyone. Sometimes we just have to be reminded. Idiots come out of the wood works randomly & while it is still illegal to kill them in real life… silence can have the same effect. ps- sure you don’t want to start teaching again in say, 2025, when my daughter graduates high school? 😉 xo

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  17. Teaching is a calling, like being a nun or a priest, it’s something deep inside you that makes you do it, not money not fame not even power (though some like that part too much). But if it is not a calling, it will be hell for you and your students. If it wasn’t for you, it is good that you left. But if you feel the passion again, it can be a win win situation…give it time….

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      1. You should be sorry you perpetuated a highly exploitative rhetoric that hurts millions of people. You need to understand how deeply, deeply wrong and cruel that line of thinking is.

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      2. I’m going to let my readers have at you now. The teaching profession is immeasurably impoverished without all of the people like me who have had to quit because they couldn’t afford to do it anymore. That includes me. You are such a fucking asshole. Please, readers, no mercy.

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      3. Yes: it’s a “profession” not a “calling.” The profession is *not* better off without Rebecca Schuman. I don’t know how to fix that profession; the few ideas I do have come from Rebecca. At least we still have her writing.

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      4. As a student who has had a terrible time in school, who gave up after a professor chastised me for having emergency brain surgery, instead of finishing her class; this profession is so not better off. I had one professor, out of 6 years of courses, that actually cared for his curriculum. He was brilliant, and had a passion to the likes I hadn’t seen/haven’t seen since. I still remember things he taught me seven years, and three brain surgeries later (that came with massive memory loss, by the way). I repeat, this underpaid, over worked “job”, isn’t in the least bit better off. In a day and age when student loans, personal discovery, jobs, kids, family, a strained economy, and so many more things compete for students attention, it takes a highly critical individual to bring focus to a classroom. In my opinion, but I am sure my opinion, much like yours, is about as valid as the paper it’s written on…and don’t judge my lack of knowledge for punctuation, I can’t help that I’ve never met a caring, or passionate English teacher, like Mrs. Schuman!

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      5. ❤ I am very sorry to hear about your multiple brain surgeries, and hope you were able to find a few professors with more compassion. I would have worked w/your doctor to make concessions and given you an Incomplete to be made up later. AS WOULD ANY non-asshole human being, I'd hope!

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      6. It’s ok. Everyone has their curve ball in life. If it weren’t for the painful disease chiari is, I wouldn’t know happiness, hard work, failure, or what living feels like. The key phrase being, non-asshole! Assholes tend to rule the world. They sit there in quiet judgment, pretending perfection. They mess it up for the rest of us, and often seal our fates with comments like the one above. The world is full of them, the only lesson is not to become one of them. That’s easily done by having passion, self reflection, and a sense of humor. The world of learning is NOT better off without you!

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      7. Yes, god forbid we start to believe that we might deserve to eat and afford some small luxuries just because we enjoy our work.

        If someone wants to be a priest, be a priest. But if someone is teaching your kids and doing a good job you’d better damn well hope their being payed well. They’re worth every penny, and then some. This is your child’s education we’re talking about, for shits sake.

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    1. What? No. Check DM guide and rulebook. Clerics get full access to innate divine spell progression. Experts/Artificers require gold to renew supply of healing, reagents, scrolls, tomes, alchemical components, and devices.

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    2. HEAR MY SPECIAL VOICE TO TEACH! It might depend on economics and social stratifications, but hey, let’s reify the shit out of it. Nope.gif

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