Unsolicited Advice from a Chaucerian Manqué

Once again, I have been reading about the scandalous state of affairs in colleges around the country where adjuncts teach at starvation wages which require them to be on other public assistance and where they have no benefits or seniority or job security or hope of having a better life.  And so I once again wrap myself in the mantle of Don Quixote de la Mancha (the Don Quixote of the movie and not the book) and give unwanted, unsolicited advice certain to be disregarded and ignored.  After all, who am I to give advice to anyone?  I have no reputation in any field.  I was merely another high school English teacher who never won any awards.  I was never the teacher of the year, except with students.  Seldom published and when published almost never to any great critical praise or acclaim.

But what I did have was a job that paid me $75,000 a year with benefits, job security, and the opportunity to write and publish anything I wanted without fear that failure to publish would ruin my (nonexistent) reputation or fear that what I published would be met with skepticism and distain.  Because I was a high school teacher I could write on any subject I wanted to, and I never noticed that being a high school teacher instead of teaching at a university had any impact on my getting published.  As a high school teacher I wasn’t limited by what others perceived as “my field.”  I could write on anything I wanted.

In addition to the money and the benefits and the job security, there are many additional the perks of being a high school teacher.  It was relatively easy to go to state and national subject-area conferences for free.  Whenever I wished to attend a conference, which I did on a regular basis, I simply wrote up a proposal for a session based on something I was doing in my classes.  School districts are very hesitant to not pay your way when you are a presenter at a conference no matter how short of funds they say they are.  Do you want an all-expenses paid vacation to Florida or Tennessee or wherever the College Board is holding this year’s Advanced Placement reading?  It seems they are always in need of high school readers.  Or perhaps you would like to get paid to go to New York or London or Paris or Athens or Rome for the summer?  NEH seminars are held all over the world, and you will get paid to go there for five or six weeks.

Ah hah, you say.  But what about the time commitment?  In high school you will have to teach five or six classes a day instead of three classes a week.  This is true, and while I am not an expert on teaching at the college level since I was only at my local university for two years, I found the time commitment about the same.  It is only apportioned differently.  At the university level you have office hours and the expectation of keeping up with your discipline.  You have the publish or perish syndrome.  You have the ever-present ancillary duties.  When you are a high school teacher your time out of the classroom is pretty much your own.  You want to research or write?  Go ahead.  You want to go to the beach?  Well, it’s a beautiful day.

But what about the problems with teaching high school?  What about the problem with discipline?  Aren’t the kids terrible?  Aren’t they monsters?  Aren’t they piranhas only waiting to tear you apart and chew up the pieces?  Yes.  They are the same kids you will have in college in a year or two.  Ask the working adjuncts if they ever have discipline problems in their classes?

I don’t wish to minimize the problems that might occur in a classroom.  Failure to learn how to deal with discipline problems is the number one reason people quit teaching.  It is the reason up to half of all new teachers quit in their first four years.  It is a problem that every new teacher must be solve.  But it is a problem that can be solved.  And is it a bigger problem than not knowing how you are going to pay your bills at the end of the month?  Is it a bigger problem than not knowing if you are going to have a job next semester?  Is it a bigger problem than the lack of self-respect you feel knowing you are stuck in a dead-end job?

But you say, “I have a masters. I have a doctorate, and no one will hire me because of the extra money I will cost the school district.”  Well, I have a PhD, and it was never an issue for me in getting a job.  I was elected to my local school board and in eight years as a board member it was never a concern to the district that someone with a doctorate was going to cost the district an extra thousand dollars. After all, the district’s budget for our small district was around fifty million dollars for the year.  Districts recognize that people with masters and doctorates have the potential of being better teachers.  After all, nobody teaches what they don’t know.

Here is my experience:  Once I receive a PhD in English literature, I never had a student or a parent or a colleague or an administrator complain about my teaching. After all, I had a PhD and so I must have known what I was doing even when I was just winging it.  I had the respect I would never have had as a college adjunct.

And if your goal is writing and publishing, remember that Robert Frost started as a high school teacher, and he managed to get published.

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