Real-World Experience, Teaching Contingently, and Academia

In my last post, I examined how the stereotype of the cloistered academic is wrong-headed and patently false. I also dealt (albeit briefly) with the idea that students need to eschew such low interests as monetary compensation in the name of “experience” and “application character building.” The post has generated a lot of discussion, both on the post and on Twitter. It would seem that a lot of us out there are sick and tired of our students and the public at large assuming what they do about our professional lives and history.

But I wonder how much of that is a result of our own doing. We are told, repeatedly, not to include any sort of non-academic (or tenuously academic) positions in our job applications. We also need to police our non-academic interests (be it past paid employment or current interests and hobbies) lest we appear unfocused or lacking the dedication necessary to make it as an academic. Never mind that for most of us who are off the tenure track, the second job is a necessity and our hobbies and interests get sidelined because of a lack of time and resources. So when, as an academic, we appear single-minded or narrowly focused in our pursuits, professional or otherwise, we need to take some blame. That’s why I encouraged my colleagues on Twitter (and do so again here) to write their own non-academic professional narratives.

Because it also will help break the notion that we have no idea what we’re doing in the classroom when it comes to teaching students the skills they need in order to secure employment or the accusation that we don’t understand how hard it is out there. Ask the 75% of faculty who aren’t on the tenure track, or any public sector university employee who hasn’t had a raise in years, they’ll tell you they know how hard it is out there. Perhaps this is the reason why we find it so frustrating when our students appear disinterested, disengaged, or just plain lazy in our classes; we know how hard it is out there, and we know that if they keep doing what they’re doing, a BA isn’t going to save them from unemployment.

But back to my first point. Is one of the reasons our students are so skeptical of us is because they don’t understand that we know what it is like, and that the skills (hard or soft) that we are trying to teach them will not only help them succeed in college, but in their future employment? I might not be on the cutting edge of technology, but I do know that learning how to write and communicate well in a variety of circumstances isn’t just a college skill, it’s a life skill. There are very few people out there who can speak to the soft skill of adapting than the writing instructor, often trained in a different field and “forced” out of necessity to teach writing, not to mention having to adapt to the constantly shifting reality of the students we teach.

I often wonder why more writing instructors don’t become entrepreneurs, as we have huge skill set and survival techniques well-suited to the volatile role of running your own business. But, then again, I’m still here, teaching Freshmen how to write. My next post for the University of Venus deals with my growing dissatisfaction with being off the tenure-track (look for it, coming soon!), and perhaps the sting is even worse when I consider that I am looked down upon by all comers: the university because I am “only” an instructor and the public at large because I am an out-of-touch professor. I belong in both worlds, but am accepted by neither.

That’s a depressing way to end my day.

One thought on “Real-World Experience, Teaching Contingently, and Academia”

  1. (btw, I'm the clarinetist on the Chronicle, just for continuity)

    Here's the problem I have with professors and "the real world." Bear in mind, most of my professors have been, if not tenure-track, at least full time. Every single professor I've ever been close to has asked me what I want to do with my life and then prompted, "graduate school?" (I'm a history major.) When I follow with "No, I want to have a full time job before I'm 30/I don't want to have to deal with academic politics/Screw 30, I want to have a full time job eventually," they smile and nod and tell me that's a good decision, and then we move on to what I do with my time when I'm not in their class and who might pay me to do that sort of thing. But that doesn't change the fact that nobody in academia (from the professors to the staff to the administration – hell, the nice woman who works at the bursar's office asked me if I was staying on for my master's) initially suggests a job for me that doesn't involve graduate school. Most of them seem to have a one-track mind, and that's frustrating for those of us who have no desire to do the PhD thing.

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