Editor’s Note: The author of this piece chose to remain anonymous to avoid any potential professional backlash.
I love my job. I spend my days learning from individuals who lead vastly different lives than my own – they share their stories and reflections on past traumas, intercultural experience, relationships – and I get to guide their reflection on those experiences. I can think of nothing I’d rather do. I am a teacher.
And so is my husband. We are in our late twenties. Collectively my husband and I hold around $38,000 in student debt. We have a $210,000 mortgage. We hope to have children. But honestly, we’re not sure if we can have children and pay our debts if we both continue teaching. And frankly, children aside, we’re not sure we can keep our sanity, health and well-being if we keep teaching.
I am adjunct faculty at community colleges. I teach an overload of courses, which requires two hours of daily commuting. I work 12-14 hour days, requiring that I eat two meals outside of my home. Car maintenance and gas costs are my own, as they don’t quite meet the threshold necessary for tax deduction. I buy my own supplies so that they can travel with me between campuses. I carry a backpack that weighs an average of 30 pounds full of books, student work and class supplies. I maintain four different work email accounts and learning management systems. I use my own computer and Internet for the majority of my work as it allows me greater mobility. I am unpaid for all the work I perform outside of the classroom (so if I am in the classroom 20 hours a week, that means I perform at least another 40 hours of work outside the classroom that is unpaid). I often use my sick leave to catch up on grading papers. I work out of cubicles, where I vacuum my own floor, empty my own trash and pray that the mice visit somewhere else. I pay for my own health benefits, which are subsidized slightly by the state, although, there is a bill currently in the state legislature, which may remove this subsidy. I am unpaid for breaks between quarters, which amounts to nine weeks a year without pay. During those breaks I am prepping my future classes or participating in unpaid professional development tasks. The union encourages me to apply for unemployment during these nine weeks; in fact, the unemployment office holds trainings for adjunct faculty where we learn what language to use so that we are best situated for approval. A full time instructor with equivalent skills in my state will work out of one college, receive full benefits, teach a standard load and make between $10,000 to $20,000 a year more than I do. This is the situation of almost 73% of the instructional workforce within the United States.
Well, you might say, get a full time position! That’s a great idea – but, unfortunately they are few and far between. I applied for two full time positions this past year. They each received over 500 applicants. 500! Well, ok then – be more competitive, get a Ph.D.! Here is the thing; a Ph.D. is not going to help me. There are fewer and fewer full time positions, even at four-year institutions. And frankly, I don’t want to be a Ph.D. – I want to be a teacher. And I am good at being a teacher. I am accessible to students, engaging – and effective. A Ph.D. will not improve my financial situation that much if I continue doing what I am doing, and it will not necessarily provide me with new opportunities. Oh and it takes at least five years.
So here are my options; keep doing what I love and find really rewarding and acquiesce myself to the fact that I am taken advantage of and underappreciated OR get a job doing corporate training/ instruction where I might not like what I do as well, I might miss the illuminations of the classroom, I might miss the regular engagement with diverse groups of people – but at least I’ll be compensated for my loss.
I am grateful that I am paid to do work that I love – but I fear that in this world, and this age, I may not be able to continue. This is the most depressing part. I have a career doing what I love, and what I love isn’t in any way frivolous. I love guiding community college students through the difficult waters of self-presentation, public speaking and culture. I love helping them develop tools for success in future careers and relationships. I love seeing them build confidence in themselves as learners and citizens. But what I love is so undervalued by society – I might be better off doing something less rewarding just so I can continue to pay my bills.
This system means we ALL lose. The teachers who love what they do and are good at it are forced to move on or stay and use teaching methods that are lazy so they can avoid becoming bitter and disengaged (trust me – these folks exist, I share cubes with them). Which means the students lose, and when the students lose, future employers lose, and when employers lose, society loses. So, bottom line is, we are lost.
See you at the unemployment office. I’ll lend you a hand with your language. I know all about it and I used to be a teacher.