Friday, October 24, 2008

A Fork in the Road

I have one professor who weekly bewails the sad state of my chosen profession. Rhetoric and Composition (Rhet-Comp, in the vernacular of academia) is undervalued and over-administrated in the university. Its teachers are lowly part-timers who must piece together a living by working at more than one school at a time. In short, we would all be better off pursuing careers as refrigerator repairmen, he says.

Now, I am familiar with this litany. In fact, this semester I am repeating this class because last Fall, not amused to hear these pronouncements about my newly chosen field, I dropped the class. Now I am back in it, with more experience under my belt and more respect for this professor's opinions. Now I hear these dire warnings and wonder if teaching college comp is really what I want to be doing after all.

I have no interest in being a professor; my goal is/was only the master's degree and to teach English at a community college.

HSU pumps out writing teachers faster than either HSU or CR could ever possibly employ them, so it's not surprising that this situation exist here: dozens of part-timers set to replace any retiring full-timers; in comp, even the PhDs are only lecturers (the lowest rung of academic instructor, except of course graduate associates).

You don't need to point out that this is absurd, considering how vital writing is in society and especially in academia. Logic of that sort doesn't affect the decisions of educational administrators. Let's just leave logic out of this.

As my cynicism rises, so my tunnel vision dissipates. I see roads opening up before me, alternate routes I can consider, each with a future attached, an alternate way for my story to turn out, an alternate definition of myself! Here are the two alternates (and whatever I decide to do, I will also have this master's degree. By May, it will be earned):
High school teacher: This entire post is apropos of an orientation I attended yesterday, in an experimental mood, for the Secondary Education Credential Program. In a year I could be teaching high school; by next semester I would be in the classroom. I have to jump through lots of hoops, pay lots of money to take lots of tests, no big deal, bring 'em on. But then would come real life, and me in the constant company of sullen teenagers and state bureaucracy, but also summers off and health insurance.
Academic counselor: Interestingly this was my original goal when re-entering college a few years ago, a Pupil Personnel Services Credential. English and writing were irresistible diversions along the way, and even though they are my focus and my love, I find myself doing informal academic advising nearly every day. I have no trouble navigating the academic labyrinth or seeing it in relation to a person's needs and interests. I am 100 percent certain that I can do a better job of it than any adviser or counselor I ever met with. I had been thinking this path was closed to me since I my undergraduate work was not in psychology or education, but I learned yesterday that doesn't matter. I could still do this. Sullen teenagers, yes, but no need to control them en masse. State bureaucracy, yes, but not the kind that interferes with or dictates the teaching dynamic. Summers off and health insurance, yes, yes, yes.

Anyway, all this is what's on my mind lately. Stay tuned for life-altering decisions. Or not.


pmn34 said...

First thought I had was Van Halen and the song
"Hot for Teacher"
then once I calmed down I thought, well she has good command presence so teaching is perfect for her.

Indie said...

I'm not sure which is the more provocative temr there, Hot for Teacher or "command presence."

I will have to think about that. I do know my heart no longer flutters, finally, when I have to speak to a roomful of people.

HSU has removed its PPS program in recent budget cutbacks so that idea is off the table anyway.

And now that you've calmed down, the question is down to this: teach college or teach high school?

Ernie Branscomb said...

Indie, as a refrigeration contractor, I can tell you that the profession is not a bad as your professor makes it out to be. Unlike you, I have had great difficulty in gaining a functional use of the English language. If I had an eternity I could not make sense of some of the rules that apply.

In refrigeration the rules are real simple, The refrigerator either gets cold or it doesn’t. There is none of that; I before E except after C unless it is combined a W, X, Y, or Z. (or something like that) Spell Check does not apply to a refrigerator. It either works or it doesn’t. It always takes one British Thermal Unit to lower one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. It never changes, and nobody tells you that you ended your repair with a ounce of Freon instead of a pint of polyolesterol oil. Again It either gets cold or it doesn’t.

If they were going to try to make communication a science instead of trial and error, they should have come up with better rules. Hardly any rule in the English language stays the same every time.

But, there is only one rule In refrigerator repair, it gets cold or it doesn’t. Really rather simple don’t you think? And, I don’t have to worry about whether it’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction or use a preposition to end a sentence with.

Refrigeration, as a profession, is really rather simple, It gets cold or it doesn’t. Meanwhile, you can start and end sentences however you like, as long as the refrigerator gets cold. (The pay is not bad either.)

This whole diatribe was written with a tongue firmly planted in a cheek, and I hope you accept it in the humorous vein that it was offered. That’s another problem with the English Language, nobody can see that smile on the face.

Indie said...

Ernie, this is priceless!!! I think you have a much firmer grasp on the language than you like to let on!

Do you mind if I show your comment to my professor? I know he would get a kick out of it.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Please do, but work on simplifying those rules for people like me that have trouble with them.

Lucy said...

Hmm, I feel your predicament. Would you enjoy doing both of them equally? Teaching high school gives you a set of rules of what you must teach in each grade. Is this something that bothers you? I think you would be great at either one.

Indie said...

Ernie, the rules come from the language itself; linguists (once called grammarians) just catalog them. You know all the rules already.

It's as if there were breathing teachers who bossed us around all through childhood, hounding us about how exactly the perfect optimum breathing is done.

We would become so self-conscious about breathing that we'd think we aren't good at it, we'd only do it when we absolutely had to, and we'd try to draw as little attention as possible to the fact that we were doing it.

We'd hire other people to breathe for us, natural breathers, breathers who made it look easy. Whole branches of science would devote themselves to detailing how breathing works.

Indie said...

Lucy, wasn't it fun schmoozing with all those high school English teachers today. They make it seem fun.

Big City Poz said...

I spent 30 years in the classroom as a teacher at San Gabriel High School and it was good for me in many ways.

You mention the "sullen teenagers" and there are some to be sure. However, many more are great people and good to work with. I miss the kids most of all. They constantly challenged me and ultimately made me a different and better person.

Teaching literature for so many years also made me a better reader. I taught some great books and I learned more about reading by teaching them. I taught A Tale of Two Cities for at least a dozen years, but it wasn't until my last year of teaching that I finally understood the book (it all revolves around one paragraph).

......and I can rip into a lecture on any part or theme of To Kill a Mockingbird at the drop of a hat. I love it more now than I ever did before.

Teaching writing can be frustrating (and fatiguing), but after teaching for a few years you wouldn't have the lowest level classes. Eventually you'd even have honors classes and then the fun would really begin.

What I disliked most about teaching were the emphasis on standardized testing (and the emphasis on the results of the tests), standardized curriculum, the paperwork, the meetings and grading papers.

The summers off (and other periods off) were magic. A summer without teaching was enough time to destress and stop being Mr. Cornish and then to recharge and be ready to be Mr. Cornish again.

Be sure to explore academic counselor carefully. At my school the counselors had too large of a student load, endless paperwork, long hours, much shorter summers (they stayed to work with summer school students and started early to prepare for the new school year), stressful events with students and their parents. They were badly overworked and they often showed that in their appearances and demeanors.

I'm so glad I chose teaching high school. it was so good for me on so many levels. If I had my life to do all over again, I would still be an English teacher.