Post Academic

The Five Stages of the First Day of School

Posted in First Person by Arnold Pan on September 3, 2010
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"First School Day" by ERWEH (Creative Commons license)

I’ve been taking note of all the back-to-school status updates from my Facebook friends, which don’t exactly make me envious, though maybe a little nostalgic.  We’re still about 3 weeks from the start of school here on the quarter system (yay, summer!), though I’m entirely sure if anything changes that much for staff.  Anyhow, I was recalling what that first day of school is like from one stage of my academic life to another, starting with college up to being an adjunct.

1. College: There was definitely a palpable excitement for the first day of classes, since I was definitely a little bit of a self-defined geek going from high school to college.  It wasn’t just the thrill of living somewhere new with lots of interesting new people, but there was a sense of exhilaration in getting to choose what I wanted to learn for the first time ever.  I loved leafing through the newsprint schedule of classes, then slowly whittling down all the candidates for the courses I wanted to take into my schedule that quarter, leaving a little wiggle room for the “shopping” period to make my final decisions.  The first day of classes was just a fulfillment of all the planning, though maybe an anti-climactic one in the end.

2. Grad school: I experienced something of the same thing on my first day of classes in grad school, only it didn’t feel like such a watershed moment.  Rather, I went about starting grad school with a more practical — and perhaps cynical — perspective: Things needed to get done, such as figuring out what the other folks within what was going to be a very insular grad school social circle were like and gauging the competition among my classmates.  The latter wasn’t exactly front-and-center in my mind, but it was definitely something I was thinking about as I started to make my flawed and judgmental judgments way too early.

The first day of school gets less and less looked forward to, below the fold…


Adjuncting and High School Teaching: Adventures in Post-Gradland

Adventures in Gradland (a great blog, FYI) is doing a series on based on a roundtable talk on Post Academic careers. The first article in the series is on what life is like as an adjunct, while the second is on high school teaching. Many PhDs in the Humanities work as adjuncts to fill in the gaps as they try to get a tenure-track job, while there are also those who work as much as full-time tenured brethren as “freeway flyers”–just without the benefits and perks. While it is often said that grad students are treated like cheap labor, this post suggests that adjuncts may be treated worse.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but the post’s bottom line stuck with me:

… don’t adjunct while you’re ABD unless you’re able to teach only one or two courses related to your dissertation, don’t adjunct for more than a year or two unless you want to be labeled a “generalist,” find out what course credits you need to teach high school so that you have a back-up plan, and get familiar with new technologies and online learning. And urge the MLA and the AAUP to start fighting for the rights of adjuncts.

One woman in the audience who had worked as an adjunct for several years made an impassioned plea–don’t adjunct, period. You’ll be exploited, you’ll ruin your chances of a secure academic career, and you’ll contribute to an exploitative system.

You may need to adjunct at some point because that’s what you’re qualified to do, but don’t overdo it. The cycle of exploitation is dangerous. You’ll expend so much energy on teaching that you won’t have the time to train for other careers if that’s where you suspect you’re headed in the long run. At the very least, you should be figuring out how to teach high school. High schoolers aren’t that scary, and the benefits are way better than what you would get as an adjunct.

Speaking of which, Arnold picks up the coverage of what the Gradland blog has to say about high school teaching below the fold…