Monday, August 11, 2014

Happily Rejected

Over the summer, I considered taking on a full-time position outside of teaching (if you read my last post, you know I chose to leave adjuncting behind). One of the positions I applied for was the Tutorial Services Coordinator for the North Orange County Community College District. I didn't get the job.

What I did get was a rejection letter-- a real, hard-copy one on stationary. And I loved it.

Now, it sounds weird to appreciate rejection, but in an employers' market, there are so many times when hiring committees/managers won't bother to let you know they received your application, let alone tell you that the position has been filled. Job hopefuls are left sitting on their hands, wondering whether they're being considered or their resumes have already been moved to the trash bin. The letter was a classy move.

Here is the body of the letter:

Rejection can make you feel worthless, but this letter actually made a point to remind the person who they were rejecting that it wasn't anything personal. It wasn't a reflection of lack. It was simply that someone else had what they needed at that given moment-- a simple business decision. 

I feel that the North Orange County Community College District went above and beyond in preparing this letter for rejected applicants because, even though I know this is a form letter sent to other hopefuls, they took the time to put a name on the letter, and they mailed it to my address. They treated me as an individual. A small, but significant effort that made a big impact, one that can be easily replicated.

I think more employers, especially universities, could take a lesson from the way that the North Orange County Community College District handled the hiring process. It's not very difficult to form-fill with computers. A mass email could even be sent, even without the applicant's name. It simply gives applicants closure and the ability to seek out other opportunities, instead of waiting on ones that they can't be certain are open or closed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bittersweet Beginnings: After Adjuncting

Yesterday, I did something I never thought I would do. I formally gave up my teaching position. This Fall, no one will call me Professor Papaioannou. I won't get to enjoy the shocked looks when someone asks me what I do for a living, and I tell them I teach at a university. I won't meet a new classroom full of new students who rely on me for guidance and support. I won't get to have the wonderful exchanges with colleagues during meetings and project building sessions. It's really a very bittersweet moment for me.

I love teaching. I do. I love students and collaboration and leadership and everything that comes with it-- except the system of adjuncting itself, which leaves you in a constant survival loop all for the chance of finding a job someday maybe. Leaving teaching behind really had to do with stability. I became anxious all the time, wondering how I would pay my bills or how I would find time to squeeze in writing my dissertation (which is costing me over $1300 a semester to write). I started to doubt that I was good enough to be in a doctoral program because I couldn't clear my head enough to make sense of my research. It made me feel like I would never finish or never get to reach the other life goals that I had for myself. This is something I hear almost every doctoral student starts to experience as they near the end phase of their degree. It might seem to some as impatience or not being able to deal with being uncomfortable, but it became about a basic quality of life.

A picture of me taken by a student
while teaching my first writing course
I started teaching 4 years ago as a doctoral teaching fellow during the 2010-2011 school year. The next year, I became an adjunct. I drove to Queens from central New Jersey once a week and spent my whole day on campus. The next year, I spent a semester on the Staten Island campus, which was a much shorter commute, before returning to Queens. Then, I took a job at my alma mater. I took the job because I was told it would be good prep for the possibility of a full-time position in the department, a Composition position that they had just gotten a line for. When that job came around, though, I was still working on my dissertation. I wasn't qualified for the position, and so I was passed over. I decided to stay on as an adjunct anyway because I loved the department and the students. Since the job search failed the first year, I figured I would try again the following year. Again, though, doing a qualitative study takes time, and I still didn't have the degree to qualify me for the position when the next year's job search came around. They found someone (who I happen think is a great fit), and I was left with the option to continue adjuncting at a university that was 86 miles away from home.

I intended to stay on this year, figuring that I needed to be teaching to be relevant after graduation and that the department was pleasant and the students were engaged. At the same time, the more I thought about this semester, the more anxious I became-- tuition, healthcare costs, commuting expenses that were topping out in the $3500 range per semester, hours spent in my car, and a lack of socialization because I couldn't afford to do anything anymore. I felt like I was paying to go to work. Some people would say to look at it like an internship, earning my way to a higher position, but let's be real-- no on wants to be an intern for 5 years. I also felt like every time I tried to go above and beyond, I was pushed back down, either by time constraints or unnecessary bureaucracy/micromanagement. I was afraid to talk to my advisor because I thought she'd just tell me I was being silly, that all doctoral students struggled, that real academics stayed in academia (she didn't, for the record). This all made me an unpleasant, unproductive person. I found myself complaining all the time to those around me. I didn't like the person I was becoming.

So I struck out and did some research to see what else I could do. And you know what I found? Lots. Lots of things that still involved education, writing, working collaboratively, making a positive impact, and being a leader. I realized that I was clinging to teaching in part because I liked the job, but also in very large part because I simply liked the respect that others outside of academia gave me for being a professor, especially because they always thought I was too young to be one, and because I felt that it was what was expected of me as a doctoral student. But liking that people are shocked at your title or living up to others' expectations for you aren't very good reasons for continuing to do something.

The minute I heard back from my supervisor acknowledging my resignation, I felt a huge weight lifted. For the first time in a long time, I didn't feel like I was hanging off the edge. I felt closer to completing all my goals, including my doctoral degree. I went to work at the writing center that day not stressed about making money to afford gas to get to work or finding time to revise syllabuses, but making a schedule to work on my dissertation and plotting what I could do with the money saved. It felt wonderful.

I am still a writing consultant, so it's not like student interaction and writing pedagogy have been completed yanked out of my life. And while I'm sure I'll miss teaching, I also have some fantastic opportunities on the horizon. I feel re-energized by the possibilities I find as I explore my options.

Does this mean I will never teach again? I don't know. At the moment, though, I'm pretty committed to the idea that I will never adjunct again. In truth, I'm not sure what this all means for me in the long term, but I do know that I'm excited to find out and that's way better than what I've been feeling for a while now.