September 1, 2012

Working through disappointment

I have posted on this before, so pardon the self-centered nature of this post.  Higher education in general, and history in particular, are very hard places to find steady employment.  Most of us end up doing exactly what I am doing--teaching multiple classes at multiple colleges or universities for very low pay and no benefits or job security.  Oddly enough, there is a little bit of comfort in knowing that my experience is so common.  Very little comfort, but there it is.

Last spring, I had one more opportunity at a local community college.  It is the one job arena where my experience matters and my lack of publications don't.  Long story short, they chose someone else--a grad school colleague.  As much as I appreciate his work effort, I certainly don't think he is a better teacher.  But his connections were better than mine, and that is the story of my academic life.

Frustrating, though.  I emailed the chair to ask what I could have done better.  He said my presentation, experience and interview were excellent and he couldn't think of any way to improve.  What sounded like a pretty strong compliment also made the rejection that much more painful.  "You were perfect and could not have done better.  But we still aren't going to hire you."

I know I am a good teacher.  I had a student say "wow" the other day when I explained how the Black Codes allwed southern plantation owners to recreate the ante bellum south in 1866.  I have had numerous students tell me my class was their favorite.  That helps.  I have worked really hard this semester to figure out new ways to approach teaching the same course.

But the constant rejection has taken a toll.  Don't get me wrong.  My life is better than I deserve.  SOF and I get along and have so for 24 years.  We live in a nice community and have amazing friends.  My life is better than most of the people on the planet.  Being rejected for a community college job is not even close to the end of the world.

There are moments, however, when the disappointment is hard to ignore.  The worst occur when I am around multiple people who are deeply ensconced in the cult of academia.  They really don't understand those of us on the outside.  Worse, at times, they have no idea how hard we work to teach more than they do (often) for a tenth of the pay and no benefits.  Yesterday was one of those painful moments when one of the people from the job search last spring emailed me (again) to ask me to adjunct at the same place.  I feel like asking him gently that he might consider how hard it would be for me to meet the same people who voted against me, and the person who they chose, while I do the same job for pennies.

I can rationalize every single job disappointment.  Either I screwed up as I did at a couple of opportunities, or I was never really a serious consideration in a few.  Or there were those jobs that I am so fortunate not to have.  But occasionally, I am reminded of them and it still stings.


steves said...

It is frustrating. I am going through the job search thing now and have gotten similar feedback.

My dad moved from academia to the gov't because he didn't want to publish. He didn't give out a lot of advice, but I remember him saying that if I were to go into university teaching, I had better like doing research and writing.

Streak said...

Yeah, that isn't really true everywhere. Some schools require more research. Some (in history) require book publications for tenure and advancement. Others, more suited to teaching, and requiring their faculty to teach much more, don't require nearly as much research.

But that is what you would call a "moot point" for me. Research school, teaching school, the answer has been the same.

steves said...

You are right. He was a geologist in a department that was heavily into research.