Do you ever wonder why you’re teaching at all, given the pay and working conditions?
I sure do. Recently it’s come to my attention that a lot of successful small business owners and executives once spent time wondering the same thing, and they came to a conclusion that looks mighty attractive to me. Last time the business networking group I belong to met over breakfast, I learned that four of the dozen men and one other woman present had been teachers, long long ago and far far away. At least a couple were very successful teachers.
With varying degrees of regret and relief, they left teaching for pursuits more lucrative and less stressful.
Now we learn that Arizona’s wacko legislature, having been shouted down by a governor’s veto last year, is once again going to try to push through a law allowing students, faculty, and visitors to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
Enough is enough. Friday—was it only yesterday? Time passes so fast when you’re having fun!—I spent a good five hours wrestling with software to prepare course materials to post online. Those five hours were basically unpaid. The District’s policies specifically say adjuncts are paid for the hours they spend in class. So in fact, any course prep and grading amounts to free labor. Add what you get paid for the work that’s recognized to what you get paid for the real work of teaching, and you come to something well below minimum wage. Hell, it would be below minimum wage in Bangladesh!
Is there really a good reason I should risk my life for $2,400 a semester? How, really, does this make sense, other than that it just barely keeps the wolf from the door, in a good month?
You think I exaggerate with the “risk my life” bit?
Well, take a look at this.
That video was made by a young man who used his gun to cripple a U.S. Congresswoman and kill a passel of innocent bystanders, including a child. Listen to the tone of his demented monologue has he stalks around the Pima Community College campus. Take note of what he says to and about one of his English professors.
Jared Loughner is far from alone. Anyone who’s taught more than a year or two has had at least one raving nut case in a class. Let me count them up:
• The lady who wrote about the conversations she and her fellow patient used to have with the raven that perched on the wall at the state mental institution.
• The radical “poet” I invited as a guest speaker to one of my classes, who cornered and tried to rape me and then came back to the classroom to harass me and my students.
• The dope dealer who told me how close he came to shooting a cop who tried to arrest him—and reiterated that he had no intention of going to jail, no matter what it took.
• The big bruiser who threatened to beat up a girl(!) in his study group.
• The one who came to class wearing reflective sunglasses every day and who launched a confrontation that led to his being tossed out of the room.
• The dude who showed up in class at 9:30 a.m. reeking of alcohol.
• The guy who announced he’d just been expelled from another English class because when he wrote about his prison experiences, the instructor thought he was threatening her.
• The two gang-bangers who showed up in colors (can’t complain about them too much…they turned out to be two of the best students in the section).
• The “Moth,” who spent every moment in class staring fixedly at the overhead fluorescent lights.
• The gent who arrived at the first class meeting out of breath, just having knocked a fellow student unconscious on the mall.
One could go on and on.
Would I have liked any of these characters to have been packing heat in class? (Admittedly, some of them—like the one who said she carries her pistol everywhere she goes—probably did.) Would you care to confront any of the obstreperous folk who have showed up in your classroom if you knew there was a good chance they were armed?
It’s already less than perfectly safe to stand up in front of a roomful of hormone-laced strangers every day. IMHO, when this law is passed (that’s when, not if: it’s only a matter of time), the risk to college instructors will rise exponentially.
Maybe that risk would be worth taking for full-time pay. After all, if I could get my foot in the door to a f/t position at the college where I’m teaching, I’d start at something between $65,000 and $75,000. But for $2,400 per 16-week class? It’s insensate!
I love teaching. However, it’s one thing to do what you love (and what you’re pre-eminently trained and qualified to do) for less than minimum wage. It’s another thing to take on even more risk than one does in most jobs that deal with the public. I think I’m reaching a point where it’s just not worth it.
So…what else can an old lady who’s too superannuated to get a corporate job do?
How about real estate?
For a great deal more preparation than it takes to get a concealed weapon permit in Arizona, you can get a real estate license. You take two courses, which Realtor friends have said are ridiculous, and then you take a state exam.
Now, I enjoy real estate and know a lot about it, but I don’t want to sell houses. Sales is not my thing. What I want is a part-time job as an office assistant in some real estate office—I would do just fine filling out forms, answering phones, keeping someone’s appointment schedule, filing, and writing ad copy. But to get any assistant’s job in any real estate office here, you have to get a real estate license.
This semester is mercifully slow for me. A seven-week class starts at Heavenly Gardens Community College just next month; I could take the second course in a summer session and have the license before fall semester begins. By the time the proposed new legislation turns my classroom into an armed camp, I’ll be working somewhere else.
Pay would be abysmal, but that’s OK: I’m making abysmal wages now. Office jobs, however, pay twelve months a year; that would be a big improvement on the eight months of sporadic pay the colleges disburse.
How about you? Ever think of straying from the sylvan groves of academe? Where would you go? What would you do?