Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

Now that this seemingly never-ending semester is over and finals are done and Christmas has been celebrated, comes the existential dread: my tenure dossier. 

After 15 years of teaching, I am finally in the last stage of my attempt to remain gainfully employed without having to worry about a semester-to-semester contract, as I did when I was an adjunct.   My office is the only one occupied in my building; the rest of my colleagues are a) tenured, b)working from home, or c) adjunct and as such exempt from this exercise. It's so quiet that hours pass unnoticed as I toggle back and forth between documents, collecting evidence from my 6 years on this campus that will show my department colleagues that I am worthy to remain one of them. The material is there--but the process of getting it in order is very time-consuming. I'd say I'm a little more than halfway done, and the thing is due next week.

The Executive Committee of my department meets during the third weekend in January to make its retention and promotion decisions. If the vote is positive, it is then up to my campus Tenure Retention and Promotion committee to vote. If the vote from the department is negative (and this is a possibility), I will have a "terminal year" during which to look for other jobs; I will also get a chance to appeal the decision. 

This whole process has taught me a lot about myself. It's taught me that I have more energy and enthusiasm than I thought possible, even while dealing with first one, then a second child. It's taught me that I am just as dogged now [at nearly 40]  as I was in my early 20s when I pursued a double major in philosophy and English and darn near had a minor in writing before I graduated (while also on work/study and as an athlete all 3 quarters of an academic year: water polo in Fall and Spring, and swim team in Winter). 

Twenty years ago as an undergrad at Hiram College, I told my mentor, Hale Chatfield, that I wanted to become an English professor. I honestly could think of no better life than one in which I would spend my time reading, thinking, and talking to students (I hadn't really thought about grading papers...).  Though he died 10 years ago, I have thought of him often as I've moved along this path. He was a poet who was interested in computers and technology, and he probably would have loved the explosion of writing that has taken place on the interwebs. In some ways I think of my reaching tenure as a way of repaying the faith that he and my other professors have had in me and in my abilities. Their knowledge continues to be passed along--because every day, I use what I learned as student to help my own students learn. I am thankful to have had wonderful professors, and it has been my honor to follow in their footsteps.

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