by Jill Darling
I started writing this mini-essay project on contingency at the beginning of the year, and thought I would continue for the duration of 2015. But now I think I am done here. I will say, it has often helped. Writing can often help. There are so many issues in the higher ed world, the rise of contingent labor a major cause and consequence of some of them. Writing about this helps lessen my stress. I am a poster child: teaching at multiple institutions, juggling my schedule to get the jobs to get the pay to pay the bills… And on my own time I work hard to negotiate what might be good moves for me professionally: to improve my teaching, to publish creative work, to research and write papers on academic writing and teaching, how to make my CV make me look employable.
I want a full-time job teaching. But this has become a pipe dream. I know the stats, that 75% of college instructors are now part-time or otherwise contingent, even if they are in what are called full-time positions… And there are new articles coming out every day about more travesties in higher ed, like the rise of administrator positions, salaries, benefits. What this looks like from school to school differs. But I have met and talked to so many people suffering from this system. We have to teach at different places because there are course limits and terrible pay-per-class. There is little job security, professional development, resources, collegiality, etc.
I had some optimism this past year. I was involved in a number of professional development workshops and opportunities. I have been able to talk to peers and really spend time thinking about how to better develop myself as a teacher. But it’s all been a ruse. I’m still in the same contingent, multiply-employed situation this fall as I have been for some years now. It’s possible this is why I can’t get a full time job. I’ve been doing this at too many places, for too long, or something. I don’t really know what the problem is.
I’ve had some interviews that resulted in rejection. And I’ve seen lots of other people get jobs, teaching and non-teaching jobs because they have experience and they are good at what they do. I feel convinced that having over 15 years of teaching experience has not actually helped me at all. The system is broken, so totally broken, but the circulating narrative informs me that if I just work hard eventually things will go my way. If I want the full time job (because so many people teaching part-time in higher ed don’t actually want full-time positions) then I just have to keep working toward that. And if that doesn’t happen, then it’s because of something I’ve done wrong or what I could have done better. It’s entirely my fault if I am not getting a real job, not getting my work published, and etc.
Regardless of the systemic challenges I’m now pretty sure that the fault lies within me. I got the wrong degrees. I spend so much time teaching that I am no longer good at teaching. And I’m not good at writing because I don’t have time to work on and develop my writing. I am trying to do too many things that I feel like I should be doing to help me be an attractive candidate for real jobs, but I’m failing at that or doing it wrong or I don’t know what I really should be doing at all. And if I quit teaching for a job in another industry, I’ll likely just fail at that too.
The system is broken, but the narratives it dispels are working. We do this because we can see no other way. And when we do this it seems there is no other way but to fail at it. I want to believe I am good at something, but instead I can only work on building my endurance and resolve in the face of rejections and seeing all of the ways I fall short.
Jill Darling’s blog is Write Me.