25 September 2010

Working hard, and hardly working.

Last night I went to see Billy Collins. I know, I know, you're all like, "THE Billy Collins?!?" and I can tell you yes, THE Billy Collins. He was funny and human and inspiring, and I left the reading with new poems bouncing around my brain, glad to have been near such a prominent national voice of poetry. It was pretty dreamy all around.

Then I went to the after party. It was fun, for a while. They had my favorite beer in the fridge, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, and hummus, plus lots of writery writers.  I hung out with my colleagues, people I love who make me laugh every day. I talked with my beloved mentors, and muttered about dried mango with Billy Freaking Collins. Then I sat at a table of fellow educators from  a different campus in town, one where I have worked in the past. One of the them, a dear friend to one of my colleagues, quickly began to tell me how wrong it was to have to teach 5 sections of English in one semester (the standard load at my and most Community Colleges), how we owe our students so much more, how we shouldn't even be expected to teach 7 sections a year (as opposed to our 10; 7 is standard load in 4-year colleges), how we should all take a full year sabbatical (which would be nice but is not practical for most of us). I blinked at him. I thought of how he is a star of this college's faculty, how he's very visible, likely loved by students. And I thought he was an absolute asshole.  It made me feel sick, claustrophobic, and I was suddenly so, so anxious to get away from academia.

Perhaps it was the wine, or the inferred superiority of 4 year college faculty over the lowly community college faculty, but regardless, I don't care for anyone to tell me how much my job sucks. I mean, if I tell you how much my job sucks, that's one thing; it's kind of like nobody gets to say mean things about my sister except me.

The truth is, my current job is hard. I teach 5 sections a semester, which gives me 125-150 students to educate in up to 3 different courses. And as in any job, there is bureacracy and crap and un-fun stuff to deal with, though I find it to be less here than the other two colleges where I've worked. But also, I work alongside women and men who are passionate about teaching, who hold high standards for academic integrity and academic freedom, and who, as I've mentioned, make me laugh every day. If that means I have to teach twice as many students as he does, I'll take it.

What's sad about this, for me, is that I believe I actually have the better deal: yes, the work is hard. But the rewards are richer here, from where I stand, in every way, and I would never want to trade places with him. He can have his sabbatical (though lord knows we can all use one), and his bureacracy, and his perceived superiority. Good for him. I've got papers to grade, student names to learn, and colleagues to support and appreciate.

I don't have time to begrudge this job: I'm too busy enjoying it.


Mink*e said...

You know, from a student's perspective, I've had a lot of 2-year instructors and taken a lot of U of MN classes as well. While I did find the variety of educational backgrounds a challenge in the community college classes at times, I loved the instructors, who were generally a bunch of progressive, real, knowledgeable people passionate about teaching. I also got a lot out of being in classes with a diverse group of students of all ages. When I went to the U, I invariably had cocky and distant student teachers or enormous classes full of young white (and some asian) kids with an also often cocky and distant proff. I was a number, essentially. I really left with the impression that the best teachers teach at the community colleges, hands down. I think a lot of students who eventually end up in a four-year school, especially the more sheltered ones, would do well to start at a community college and then transfer, or even do some of both, as is becoming more common here.

christin*e said...

I agree with Mink*e. I've been to both. Community college was much more "real" and "earthy" if you know what I mean.