Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chicago Charlie Returns.

Hey RYSers:

Well, I have, Ovid-like, returned from my Black Sea exile, back to the urban hellscape from which I first fled, lured back by the not inconsiderable charms of my now-fiancee. As a result, I have had to go back and beg for my old adjunct job at Broken College. They turned me away, saying that, and this is true, "sometimes the little birdie has to learn to fly from the nest," but I was able to snag a gig at Shitty College across town. But then something else happened, something amazing. I also got a job at Fancy-Pants Private University Across the Way as a TA for an introductory humanities requirement. And I love it! I fucking love it!

I am one of those many graduate students who, no doubt, were at the top of the undergraduate dog pile, only to find themselves at the bottom of the academic job pile teaching dull-as-death intro questions to the living dead. You know, most of my students aren't snowflakes, they're just slush. They don't care one way or the other. They don't beg for grades, they don't lie with lame excuses and cheat to beat the system. They are just punching their time-card, hoping to skate through with minimal effort and minimal skills. And at the kinds of poor, public urban campuses where I have taught, this is basically the attitude of the senior faculty too. And, you know what, as I wrote in my first post, it deadens you. It takes the enthusiasm right out.

You get the zombie bite, and become a zombie too. And, as my previous posts indicated, that's what I became, and staring at the thought of 40 or 50 years of it is a hard thing to do. It was truly hard to stare into the abyss like that, to look down in there so long that I really, honestly, for the life of me, just could not remember why on earth I chose this as a profession. I had a vague sense of having once enjoyed reading books and talking about them, of having once enjoyed working with young people and watching them grow and develop, intellectually and otherwise. I could vaguely recall the profound impact certain of my old professors had had on me (and still do, since I now count a number of them among my friends). But all that was gone. And then I got the job at FPPUAW, and... well... wow!

The students do the reading! They come to class prepared with questions! They are legitimately interested in the nuance of ancient poetics! They laugh at my jokes and write things down when I say something smart. They respond to visual cues! For fuck's sake, they have a pulse! I can't believe it, but I actually enjoy teaching! On FRIDAY! At 8AM! I can't believe it: I look forward to going to teach on Friday at 8am. And I am NOT a morning person. At. All.

I still believe the work I am doing at the urban public campus is valuable, but in a different way: it is a commitment to social justice and to giving a leg-up to the least advantaged in society, not helping the already affluent increase their stranglehold over the levers of power, as I do at Fancy Pants U (and social justice through education was indeed the motivating factor that led me to take the jobs I did at the public university. Silly me, elite, privileged me, I literally could not imagine how poorly trained and apathetic the students, faculty, administration, indeed, the very bricks and mortar, could be).

In a perfect world, I would be able to find a balance between the two types of work and still make a living wage, but for now, let me just pause for a second, breathe in, and say what a huge, Olympian-sized fucking relief and pleasure it is to go into a classroom and actually have students who can handle the material! Wow!