Why I’ve Returned to Teaching

“If you want to see those raises, you [the faculty] need to work on retention, keeping more students from year-to-year.”

This isn’t an exact quote, but it’s pretty close to what we were told this week at the Fall Convocation for faculty and staff by the university’s president. After taking almost a year off from teaching, I am now going to be a full-time Instructor, teaching developmental English and Writing II. My teaching load is 5-4, and while I am receiving full benefits, I’m making 3/4 of the salary of a professor (I know-my husband is one). And, being a state institution, all of us are facing shrinking budgets, regardless of rank. “Do more with less” we are essentially being told. And, possibly, pass the kids along so you can keep your jobs.

I’ve written so much on this blog about the hypocracy of higher ed, about how liberating it has been for me to leave and try something new, that I feel like a hypocrite myself for going back to the university at all.  I have very strong mixed feelings. For one, I am so thrilled to be going back into the classroom.  Teaching, for me, isn’t a job, it’s part of who I am, as much a part of who as am as “mother,” “wife,” “sister,” “writer,” “swimmer,” etc. Maybe it’s all a social construct, but that doesn’t make it any less real for me. I missed being in front of a classroom, I missed watching students become better writers and better students, and I missed being a part of something larger than myself. 

I am also grateful that I will be pulling in a regular, larger salary. Grateful, and very relieved. I didn’t escape my education debt-free (far from it), and neither did my husband. His salary alone was not going to pay them back and allow us to live. Outside of the university, the only other real option for a job here is in health care. I may have toyed with the idea, but I’m not retraining for another, completely different career. In this economy, in this environment, I am lucky to have a job.

But, when I hear the administration telling us that we need to do more, much more, with less, I feel a sense of despair.  When I learn that my developmental students have ACT scores in English that deem them woefully unprepared for college, my resolve and enthusiasm wanes. When I read that the university is taking advantage of my passion for teaching, I get angry at the idea that I am allowing myself to be a pawn.  When I look at the statistics and other studies that show that it is disproportionally women who fulfill the roles of underpaid and under-appreciated workers in higher ed, I question my whole decision to give up my tenure-track job for my family. I’ve asked this before, but what kind of role model am I providing for my own children, for the (very) young adults that I teach?

So, why have I gone back to teaching? Because, at the end of the day, I’m making a compromise. For me, the benefits, both literal and figurative, outweigh everything else. I might not be on the tenure-track, but as long as their are developmental students, I have a strong sense that I will have a job. And I don’t see the developmental student going away anytime soon. I can still blog, and I can still try to find a way to change higher ed for the better. I can teach the students who will potentially teach my children. I can open students’ eyes and minds, lots of them (between 100-150 a semester). I won’t pass them along, but I will, instead, make them earn their passing grade.

For now.

If the situation changes, I have no problem walking away, starting (however begrudgingly) over, again. Maybe by then we’ll have managed to pay off some our debt. Maybe by then, I’ll be able to leave on my own terms, not theres. Perhaps that is the best lesson I can teach my kids.