Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

I’m an adjunct and it’s killing me

September 6, 2011

I’m not good at it. I think it’s fair to put that right out there. But, under fair circumstances, I do alright. This fall has been hellish so far. I’ve been teaching comp pretty much non-stop for the past year and ahalf. Maybe two years. Which really isn’t all that long. I know this, too. Except I teach online.

You don’t get to see the faces of your students. They don’t get to see you. The entire reward of working with people is fairly obliterated by the computer screen. Having two discussion threads and 25 papers littered with basic spelling and grammatical errors per class , per week, week after week, can be fairly dehumanizing. After awhile, all that you know is that this massive pile of incredibly tedious work descends on you every sunday night and you just wish it would stop. While your employer pushes for greater retention, you just want them to disappear, one by one, until you’re left with something a bit more manageable, or at least a bit less soul  crushing with its omnipresent weight of tedious repetition.

And that’s under the best circumstances, teaching online, at least for me, anyway. This fall has already fallen into the “worst circumstances” category.  The institution (business?) I’m working for decided they needed to revamp their email system for this fall. So, in August, I got instructions for setting up my new email account to use in the fall. Assuming I had a job, which hadn’t been confirmed when all of these emails were going out, but I assumed it was a promising sign. So I set up the account and then pretty much set it aside, believing it was for the fall.

Except for one of my bosses, and I mean “one of,” as in, I have several. And all of are able to simply nip into my class and observe me quietly from afar and all of my students have ready access to complain to them over any real or perceived slight. With a little imagination, you are probably beginning to grasp how nerve wracking this existence could be, with this idea that Big Brother could be omnipresent and that anyone can turn anyone else in and have it given weight, after all, because retention is key.

This one boss was using exclusively this new email address while the summer semester was still going on, while there was still three weeks left in the summer session. So I missed out on his email saying that the class I’m teaching was being revamped. I missed out on the email offering a workshop in all of the new stuff they’ve crammed into this thing. And I missed out on the email reminding me to get the new books for the new course, just in case I didn’t notice that the entire course has been altered for the fall.

Frankly, I was too burned out to care too much by Aug. 8, and I still 17 days in the summer semester. And when that Summer semester ended, I had to simply bottom out for a few days. So, I was pretty much fucked when I opened up my new classes the day or two before they were to begin and saw the whole damn thing changed. I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. My students are miserable and bitchy because the campus bookstore can’t manage to send them any of their books on time, so they can’t access half the work. I’m in a horrible mood because I still haven’t gotten all of the books myself and my students are freaking out because of something I essentially have zero control over. But that hasn’t stopped them from bitching to me about it.

And the worst thing is that I sort of like the new class layout so far. It actually seems easier if Ihad my book or if mystudents had theirs or if any of these emails that I missed had been sent to the email account my other bosses and department secretaries were using.

And what does all of this have to do with writing or literature? I don’t have time for it right now. I’m trying to make time but it’s just not there and when I do find free time, I’m so stressed and angry and tired and just thoroughly unhappy with what I’m doing for a living that I can’t concentrate on anything I really care about. Instead, I continue to just need to crash. To bottom out. To push everything aside for a bit and engage in some mental.emotional candy like obsessively scouring ebay and craigslist for specific toys for the kid or trying to figure out what that song by the cranberries is that I have stuck in my head from 15 years ago (it was Zombie) or watching Ghost Hunters International on Hulu while also bitching about the regular Ghost Hunters no longer being on Hulu.

The thought of picking up pen and paper or opening an office document file and diving into serious editing and revisions is damn near impossible at this point.

Alright. Piss and moan over. Back to the world.

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Don’t call me a critic – I’m an analyst!

January 24, 2011

I have a confession. I have never, ever, liked the idea of being a critic. It’s one of those weird, little hang-ups people get over time, they hear a word, they put an image to it, and their nose scrunches up as they say, “ewwwwwwwwwww.” For me, critic has always been synonymous with someone who bleeds everything enjoyable out of whatever they’re critiquing and destroys something rather than adding anything worthwhile to it.

Is this fair? of course it’s not. There are a tremendous number of very good critics who truly do add something to the work they’re looking at, who are a treat to read, and who don’t thoroughly kill the joy from whatever their eyes fall upon.  I’ve read a number of critics that I enjoy, I have friends in the field who I believe do an unbelievably thorough, engaging and, yes, even entertaining job at working through their critiques.

Still…that image remains. Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

Then I ran across a line in the book I’m using in my 7 week short story course this winter. The book is How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, and it is a book I wish I had came across years ago. If any instructors happen by this page, I fully endorse this book as an entry level reader for getting undergrads into the mode of reading and criticizing literature. It’s not only thorough, but accessible! Also, it’s cheap, so they won’t hate you for making them blow $80 on a book they’ll never use again.

But back to the line I ran across. It’s been a few days, so I can’t pinpoint where it was exactly, but Foster was talking about criticism in general when he makes a reference to deconstruction, a form he clearly isn’t a big fan of, and which he responds to by saying, “I prefer to enjoy what I analyze.”

And there was the golden word. Analyze. Not only does it have pleasant connotations with some entirely forgettable Robert DeNiro-Billy Crystal movies, but it’s also associated with the American all-positive view of business. Stock analysts. News analysts. Business analysts. Analysts, analysts, analysts. We love them. We embrace them. They are all cute and cuddly like Glen Beck at a gun rally.

And so it struck me. I’m not a critic. I don’t criticize. I don’t do quick 900 or so word critiques of novels and short stories, I do short 900 or so word analysis’s of stories. Suddenly, I feel cuter. Cuddlier. I’m okay with the idea of what I do around here -at times, anyway. Also, I feel like a more productive member of society. After all, a critic only criticizes. An analyst is in the trenches, examining trends and making flow charts. They get things done. So universities should be more willing to better fund their literature departments if a move towards re-categorizing ourselves becomes vogue. We’re not longer sitting on the sidelines, criticizing everything, we’re helping out. We’re analyzing.

Is This All There Is?

October 30, 2009

This has been a week of poor motivation.

At times it’s just hard to see how the writing will go anywhere, how all of the time spent on it will be fruitful.

This has been a week of doubt.

The more I read what I write, the less happy I am with it. The less I think anyone else will like it. The less I think it has any real positive qualities at all.

re-writing the novel, it’s just frustrating and time consuming. The words come easily enough but I can’t help but feel that I’ve said most of them before (I have, I’m re-writing after all) and I don’t know if I’m making it better or worse. And I don’t especially trust anyone to accurately tell me.

But I keep writing anyway. I keep plugging away at it. I keep putting the words on the page and hoping for the best. I keep keeping on. And I figure pretty much every other writer on the face of the planet does the same thing. They just keep going on. That we’re really a depressing, masochistic lot and I can see why people would rather enter university life than just try to write. At least a university provides structure, provides stability. I’m still thinking of trying to get back into the whole “college” thing. Would rather be published, though. Hah.