Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

There are so many things I'm grateful for, including that I don't feel as wretched as I did when I wrote my last post. Thanks those of you who responded to my previous post. I'll respond later, but for now I've got a turkey to get in the oven, a wonderful feast to prepare (without getting frustrated or annoyed, I hope), and a lovely little family to enjoy! (We're not going anywhere nor are having people over.)

Have a lovely Thanksgiving, complete, hopefully, with loving warmth and harvest feasts!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Losing the Faith

I had been thinking seriously about folding up the blog because I started it as an academic life blog, and I'm getting to the point where I don't even want to hear about the academy! Perhaps this is just another phase in the life of an academic -- the point where having gotten on the tenure-track and ruined her life with outrageous student loans, one must ask: is this worth it? Maybe this is what the second year of t-t academic life is all about, losing the faith in what we're doing and then, hopefully, finding it again. But I decided to post today because I really need your wisdom -- especially to know if this is a phase and what I can do to make things better. Here are some of the things that have made me lose the faith in what I'm doing in the past few months (hence my bloggy silence):
  • Morale at Specialized University (lookie! I made a pseudonym for my institution -- that is, the one I work in, not the one I should be checked into) is disastrously low. Money issues have been bad there for the past several years, which has made many faculty members cynical and uncooperative. One of the slightly more cooperative ones even proudly declares that he is cynical. Many faculty members are at each other's throats. Faculty and administration are having a face-off, and those who are more vocal about trying to repair this relationship by listening to the other side are considered by many to be "too soft." Since this blog is one space where I can speak back to this unreservedly, I just want to say: these people who think that barking in administration's faces is going to help the situation are total f***ing idiots. There's a lot of sky-is-falling stuff going on at SU, and I know much of the crap is because people are very very scared. (This is the nicest thing I can say about these people.) I'm scared too, especially having moved Absurdist Family across the country.
  • So what usually keeps me engaged in the work despite depressing institutional crap is teaching. But my last quarter was terrible and really instigated this downward spiral. An us-them relationship developed in one of my courses that I was never able to totally repair. (I repaired things with the ringleader, who was pretty reflective about the whole thing eventually, but it was too late.) Everyone has bad classes, but this was really hard for me because of my situation in the institution. Let me explain: this place is a Specialized University -- not in my specialty or anywhere near. While the mission of the university certainly includes what I do and my department, we're really seen as tangential. Most, not all, students are interested in very practical, non-intellectual things. Everyone agrees that what I teach is important, but generally students don't want to take my courses and aren't good at or engaged in what I teach. I knew that when I took the job. Many of us in the academy live with that. Because of the particular mission of the university and the immediate needs of students, the slant on my core courses is not what I value, though I had worked out a workable compromise that was well within the scope of the class. Perhaps more important, one of my core interests includes a focus that many in my department find absolutely essential for these students. Great! But in an assignment that I gave (to a class that did not blow up), it became clear that many students really believe in something that I think is totally wrong. And much of American society agrees with them. Now, of course, this means that I should spend even more time on similar issues and be proud of getting even one student to think more deeply about such things. Here's the crux though: in order to perform this great educational service of working within and against, I must continue to spend a great deal of my life constantly confronting these mistaken values (I was going to say "evils," but then thought maybe these students, faculty, etc. really are that ignorant -- I'm being charitable here). In short, I have to swim in the ick if I want to try to do some good there. And I'm not so sure I can swim (really live so much of my life) in the ick and keep a hold of my sanity and my best self, which is not only important to me, but to being good to my child and my family. (I'm just not able to completely compartmentalize my attitude or life.)
  • Working at the CSA farm with people who've chosen alternative lower-cost and value-based lifestyles, our bad money situation with my terrible credit even in a place where we could buy a house that costs less than our rent if I only had decent credit and a downpayment, and AL's being totally overworked and also screwed by his workplace have all led me to feel that I've screwed up all of our lives with all this debt. So I feel trapped. AL also feels trapped. We each recently confessed a half-hearted hope to be let go at our respective jobs. (And I took out almost $200,000 in student loans for that??? What kind of idiot am I?)
  • The very latest news that brought all of this to a head yesterday was that I found out that a colleague who got hired when I did is teaching three electives in a row. I, on the other hand, am teaching the core courses. So in two years, I will have taught one elective, while s/he will have taught three. (This is the same person who used my syllabus, that issue I wrote about forever ago and then poofed the post, but it's been so long now that I think it doesn't matter.) Why does this bother me? I realize that Colleague's specialties are sexier, more appropriate to the university and desirable to the students than my specialty. That said, I also found out that another colleague is teaching back-to-back electives. While I am teaching none this year. I haven't made a lot of noise about teaching electives lately because I'm trying to be amenable and flexible. Also, I thought that there were basically a limited number of possible elective offerings. Clearly, I am operating from mistaken assumptions. What's disastrous about this whole situation is that I can't quite teach the courses I'd be excited out of my mind to teach because of certain institutional limitations. But one way of restoring my faith in what I'm doing is to teach an elective I'm happy about, since the focus of the core courses is, for me, a compromise. I thought that each of us basically got to teach one elective a year. I was totally and incredibly wrong. So I'm mad at myself and my chair, who I know gave me the impression of a limited amount of elective availability. So my department, which had been a place where I could at least feel that we were all in this working-against-the-grain together, now doesn't feel so good either.
When I told Best Faculty Friend about my loss of faith in what we're doing at SU and how I want to retire from all the crap and go live on a farm, s/he said that I'm too engaged with political stuff to do that. But I'm not so sure. I would love to homeschool Absurdist Tot far away from any place that brings TV or computers into the elementary school classroom. AL says he wants to spend more time with Absurdist Tot and me, but he feels he's always at work, preparing for work, trying to relax after work. He's actually great, as much as someone who works a full-time job he hates can be. My father sucked at engaging with us kids at the end of his long sucky workday.

I haven't told BFF about this latest development of my totally misunderstanding elective availability, but I'm sure I will very soon. I'll see what s/he thinks.

So, supposing you've actually made it down this far, what do you think? How do you find the faith again in what you're doing? I don't want to poison my classes or my work or my life with all this. I want to find a constructive thing to focus on. BFF gave me a good idea for revising one of my core courses to focus on one of my interests, so at least I'd be reading things I'm interested in. (I don't usually "theme" my courses beyond the subject matter, but I'm excited about what I'll be able to accomplish by theming this one. And I need something to make me excited about these classes, so being this tiny bit selfish seems much better than what could happen if I don't try to reinvigorate the work for me.) I trust that many of you have been through these kinds of things before me -- I'd love some advice.