As the term draws to a close, I find myself in a nettle of frustration. Yet again I expect to be overlooked and undervalued, passed over for someone less experienced in my field. I was warned eight years ago, by my Master’s advisor, that those in the Academy would have a hard time accepting me because I didn’t fit neatly into a category. I didn’t believe him then.
And I’m left to reflect on the so-called student-focused rhetoric that bubbles from the administrative corners of our institutions. That seems to be the catch phrase in the Okanagan valley. All is supposedly aimed at our students and yet the reality of the courses offered and classroom spaces would suggest otherwise.
I fail to see how a newly crowned Master’s graduate with one term of teaching experience in literature is better qualified for a composition position than I. I’ve been teaching in the post-secondary environment for nine years now. The first four years I taught a writing intensive online literature course. The majority of the rest of my teaching experience has been in composition classrooms in a variety of faculties. My student evaluations have been outstanding.
In addition, I spent the last three years of my doctoral studies focusing on composition studies and literacy. My doctoral dissertation focused exclusively on writing instruction in Canada at the post-secondary level. And still I can’t compete with students who have Master’s degrees in literature.
My frustration is more than just centred on the fact that I will be unemployed come January 1st. I can’t get over the hypocrisy expressed by the institutions that are spouting student experience as their main drawing card. How is putting an inexperienced literature instructor in a composition classroom helping the students? In the last three years, I’ve also mentored several inexperienced instructors in their first terms in the composition classroom. It is not easy to teach writing at the post-secondary level. It takes practice and guidance. We learn by our failures, often at the students’ expense.
If I’m honest, another source of the salt in the wound is the fact that most of the successful candidates are younger than I am. I remember reading an article that said once a woman reaches 40 securing tenure is next to impossible. I didn’t believe it at the time – I’d seen a number of women much older attain tenure. But it plays at times in the back of my mind as I edge closes to my middle 40s.
Earlier this evening, I said goodbye to a group of students who were shocked that I wouldn’t be teaching next term. This follows on the heels of another student asking why she couldn’t register in my section in January. I had to explain that I didn’t have a section next term. I wouldn’t be teaching.
Every time I’ve taught a course, I’ve had a number of students asking what other courses I might be teaching. This has been the greatest source of pride in my work and yet it also has been a little hurt because it has been rare that, as a writing instructor, I’ve been able to teach the same student twice. I believe part of teaching is the relationships we forge with our students, the sense of community that develops in our classrooms and the voices we see emerge in these newborn scholars.
I’ve been offered a chance to work full-time on my own writing in January, without the lesson prep or the marking that comes with teaching full-time. I know many of my colleagues who would be envious of such an opportunity and yet a part of me shrivels when I’m not in the classroom. My students are my inspiration. My calling is not that of the author hidden away in her office. My greatest work occurs when I’m overwhelmed with marking and student appointments, not when I’m sitting alone with my computer and a cup of coffee.