Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Part-Time Pete From Pensacola Feels Poorly.

I taught English for 32 years and then retired a couple of years ago. Most of my career was spent at 2 different Big Ten schools. I had a wonderful time teaching, though at the end I did more administration than actual classwork, and I felt good to leave the profession when I did.

As my children are all grown, my wife and I retired to a little spot in Florida and I've gone out of my mind with boredom. I grow a nice garden, we like to fish, but during most days I putter around my old books and think about a new semester.

So with some nervousness I trundled myself off to a local community college a couple of months ago to see if I could get a part-time class. The folks were nice enough at first, and my excitement for teaching again got me all the way till today, when I realized what's really going on.

I'm getting paid $1700 for 16 weeks work. I'm being told I can't use the books I want to teach my class - even one of my own that is in a 4th edition from a major scholastic publisher. Instead I've been given a standard syllabus and textbook, both seemingly written by orangutans, and given strict instructions on not changing things like the college's "tardy policy" or their 450 word treatise on cell phones and electronic devices.

I've been scheduled for mandatory orientation on how to teach, not just in my own discipline, but at the college level generally. I sat for two hours yesterday with my supervisor, who tried to explain to me his pedagogical strategies. He's 34 year's old. I'll leave it up to you to decide if that's funny or sad.

We had part-timers at my former institutions, and I often trained and mentored them. Without fail they were usually on their first jobs, and I felt my guidance was useful. As soon as I saw them come into their own in the classroom, establish some of their own bona fides, I set them loose. I let them teach what they wanted, how they wanted. Nearly all of them left for "real" jobs one day, but I hope they learned something with us, and I was grateful for what they did for our students and our university.

Now to be on the other side of that equation, hemmed in by inanities like how to keep my grade book properly for the department administrator, I feel sick about going to my first class tomorrow. I never thought that I'd feel this way about a career I loved. I thought I'd be helping this college out. I vainly believed that 32 years at the post might earn me something - perhaps I could skip the retirement orientation, for example?!?

I hate to act like the typical old fuddy-duddy, but this has all made me wonder how many talented and prepared part-time instructors are out there who get screwed by colleges like mine, forced into teaching to some set of standards devised by a committee, working at slave wages, learning to hate and fear the job instead of love it.