Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend Edition

No snark in this one.

Hubby is in Vegas with his best friend, so I'm doing the single-parent thing for a few days. Since today's Saturday, I made cinnamon rolls for the Things, and I'm enjoying a nice cup of coffee while I catch up with the news.

The news sucks. OK, that's kind of snarky.

Crazy Qaddafi is bombing and threatening and just generally acting the way everyone expected him to yesterday when he agreed to a ceasefire. Jackwagon.

The nuclear situation in Japan is getting worse, and since the focus is on avoiding the China syndrome, 400,000+ people are living in refugee camps.

The House voted to gut funding for NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which brings you such left-wing programs as "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and "Sesame Street". I will go on the record right now: I had to stop listening to NPR for a while during the Bush years precisely because they were so fair and balanced toward a godawful President and his cadre of lying liars. I would get really furious and start yelling at the radio in the car, which invariably startled and upset Thing One.

Locally, the good news is that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order preventing the publications of the (likely illegally) passed legislation that effectively guts unions until at least March 29th, when she's scheduled a hearing. The jackwagon AG, JB Van Hollen (Republican, natch) issued a challenge, instead of pursuing a case AGAINST the illegal moves made by his Republican cronies.

Anyway, I am having to swim really hard against a tide of bad juju in this world right now, and it's made a bit easier by a consciousness that I am supremely lucky: I have healthy, intelligent, beautiful children (and I'm not bragging--other people tell me this); I am happily married to Hubby (and I miss him terribly when he's not here, so that's a good sign too); we have a decent roof and good food to eat; we have great friends and wonderful family. 

The blessings are many in this chaotic world. I just wanted to take a minute to remind myself.

One more: the sandhill cranes are back, and the pair that nests in the marsh 300 yards from my kitchen is honking up a storm right now. I'm looking forward to hearing the first of the spring peepers soon, too...

The world keeps turning.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Time for a New Normal

A friend of mine posted this as his Facebook status:
"A teacher somewhere in your neighborhood tonight is grading and preparing lessons to teach your children while you are watching television. In the minute it takes you to read this, teachers all over the world are using their "free time", and often investing their own money, for your child's literacy, prosperity, and future.
They are not 'bottom-feeders' or 'leeches.'"
Therein lies the problem: teachers using "free time" and money to help students succeed.
It has become normal for most teachers to work 50-55 hours a week. Beyond time spent in the classroom, there is preparation; there is grading--piles and piles and piles of grading, because the only way students learn is by practice and feedback on that practice.
We are paid on a 40-hour per week basis. Therefore, any work done beyond that is unpaid.
And I'm not doing it anymore.
This is not a strike. I will continue to prepare and teach my classes as always. I do this job because I love it. I love it and I do not want to give it up without a fight. The state of Wisconsin's Republicans have kicked teachers once too often. My only hope is that all teachers at all levels will come together and MAKE THE CUTS VISIBLE.
I pledge:
  • To give my utmost to my students 40 hours per week: in class, and during office hours
    To grade papers as always--carefully, thoughtfully, and with attention to finding ways to help students see what is good in their writing, and to learn from their mistakes--but I will no longer grade in the evenings or on the weekends.
    To be the best teacher I can possibly be--within the limits of a 40-hour week, because that is what I'm being paid for--no more, no less.
    Some of my colleagues have sarcastically wished me luck with this--and that just makes me even more determined. Now that this bill is about to be signed into law, and the budget will include cuts to my pay (again), I will make less than I did when I started on the tenure track after attaining tenure.  
    It is ridiculous to me that it is an expectation of the job that I WILL WORK UNPAID.
    No more. It's time for a new normal.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Joys of Working Parenthood: Or, The Gorram Plan

The past few weeks have been rather hectic. My campus is conducting two searches in two disciplines, and I'm on the search committee. This means reading through CVs and letters of recommendation to find at least 6 candidates per discipline. After we get approval, we bring 3 to campus. Each of those candidates comes on a different day to give a public presentation (a sample lecture), have a 1-hour interview with the committee (plus other interviews with the dean and the department chair), a campus tour, a community tour, and dinner with members of the committee.

Monday was the last of 5 interviews for the second discipline. The decision was to be made today at a meeting for which candidate we would offer the position. I was supposed to be there, but guess what? Nothing ever goes according to the gorram plan!

As I was enjoying my coffee, Thing Two (who was supposed to be watching Sesame Street with Thing One) went into the bathroom and got hold of a razor that had been sitting on the sink. I heard "Ow!" and he came in holding his thumb. Yep, sliced it open.

Not too deep, but he bled like a stuck pig. I had to wrestle him for control of his hand, leaving a trail of bloody kleenex down the hallway. Finally got a band-aid on him, and cleaned the blood off us both.

By that point, we were running late. Did I mention that 4" of wet snow fell overnight and the roads were frakking awful? No? How about the fact that I was so fried, I left my purse on the breezeway floor?

Barely got Thing One to her school before the bell rang. Got Thing Two to daycare, where he clung to me with the ferocity of a baby spider monkey. Pried him loose (feeling like crap for doing so--all I wanted to do was take him home) and left.

Campus. Office hour with a cup of tea and the last of my fruit + cereal bars, since I didn't have money to stop at the grocery store to replenish my office pantry.

10:29 am: Heading out the door to class, where we are finishing the second half of The Searchers. Cellphone rings. It's daycare. 

"Hi. I'm calling because we can't get [Thing Two] to keep a band-aid on, and state law prohibits kids with open wounds at daycare."

"OK. I'll be right there to pick him up." [In case you're wondering about Hubby: At this point in the morning, he's already on his way to Illinois for the yearly sales meeting. Won't be back until Thursday evening.]

So much for the gorram plan for the day, which included discussion and prep for the midterm in one class, and peer review and discussion of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food in the other. 

Get the movie started, collect papers, apologize to my class for bagging out again (this makes 3 times this semester--weather for the first two). Run copies for the afternoon section of my composition class, send out an email begging someone to hand them out for me. Stuff the handouts in a folder and prop it up on my doorsill. Bolt for daycare.

He's crying and saying "Owie! Owie" when I get there, and resumes his baby spider monkey clinging. 

We go to the elementary school to pick up Thing One, who is a bit annoyed that we've interrupted her day.

Come home, eat PB+J, take nap. Answer student emails. Which brings us to now.

The Things are watching Ponyo and I am about to get into our course management software to try to figure a few things out.

It hasn't been a completely terrible day, but once again I'm left wondering why these things happen when Hubby is out of town.

The Joys of Working Parenthood.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mental Health Break

I came home on Wednesday night from a long day of classes and a presentation/interview/dinner with a candidate for an open position on our campus. Hubby was waiting for me with a glass of wine and an announcement:

"We are going to Chicago on Friday. You need a break from all this mess and we have a place to stay and there is fun to be had. So we're going, and don't argue."

We left early Friday afternoon to drop the Things off with Hubby's parents, because we needed to be in the city by 7:00 for the show.

On the way down, I flipped off the "Wisconsin is Open for Business" billboard. 

It was raining like crazy, and traffic (as usual) was awful as soon as we hit Touhy Avenue on 1-94E. Stop and we were late, but hadn't missed the start of the show. 

It was interesting--the "Stella!" yelling contest was entertaining too--and I got to define "eructation" for the entire audience. The best part came afterward.

While chatting on the settee with Mimi, I was approached by a nice gentleman who complimented me on my helpful definition--and asked if I was a professor. I said yes, and he exclaimed "That's awesome!" and expressed concern when he found out that I teach in Wisconsin.

Mimi and I continued our conversation, and she remarked how wonderful it is that I'm a teacher--especially given what's going on in Wisconsin (and nationally). Later in the evening, as we shouted over drinks and food at the Haymarket brewpub both Mimi and Greta had lots of kind things to say, and Dominique asked lots of questions about what I teach (Hubby had told them earlier that I teach science fiction--the next NGR is a science fiction show for which I will be unable to attend, as I'll be at a conference giving a paper on SF author William Gibson).

As I sat there bathed in the warm glow of my martini and their admiration for the work that I do, I thought, "I wish I could share this with my friends, my colleagues who are feeling beleaguered and demoralized by the events in Wisconsin and Ohio--my home state--and who need to know that people care."

So this is me, telling all of you: PEOPLE CARE. They care a lot--the talk was impassioned and very anti-Walker, and they expressed admiration for the protests and the people who continued to peaceably assemble and assert their right to petition for redress of grievances.

I wobbled out of the bar feeling better than I have in weeks. And not due to the alcohol (though maybe it helped a little). People care. Maybe there's hope for the future.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Still Doing My Job

It's getting harder every day. 

I have been working really hard to keep my students and their needs uppermost in my mind--none of what is going on at the capital is their fault, and I owe it to them to do my job to the best of my ability.

The problem is, the best of my ability is sliding back--I'm not sleeping well, and today I had a terrible parietal headache that came on during our campus meeting over the noon hour, which meant that I had to cancel my afternoon class and come home to sleep with my head on a heating pad. 

The mess in Madison has only gotten worse--we are locked out of the Capitol, the Governor's budget for the biennium is so fucked up I can't even bring myself to write about it right now, and my thoughts are swirling around at a pace that makes it difficult to sleep through the night.

I'm behind in my grading. I have to get caught up because my composition students need their papers back before they hand in another big assignment so that they can see where they need to make changes to improve the paper they're about to hand in. I'm behind in my grading (and I haven't been blogging as much as I've wanted to) because I have "tennis elbow" from an injury incurred the week before Christmas (not from playing tennis, sadly), and it's not healing because I write and type and use a mouse every day for my job. I can only do so much before the pain is unbearable and I have to stop. Just typing this little bit is causing a flare-up. FML.

I am also having a crisis. I don't know if it's a mid-life crisis, but since I'm going to be 40 soon, maybe it is.

I have spent my entire adult life working to become a professor. I took a detour into corporate America, lured by the big salary and the easy work, but it was soul-killing to think I'd incurred $70K in student loan debt and wasn't doing the work I'd borrowed all that money to do--the work I'd felt called to do: teach. Never mind the fact that said corporate job was the only time in my life I wasn't carrying credit card debt and was actually able to make substantial payments on my student loans. Hubby and I paid for our own wedding (and kept it under $5K) because of my job.

After 9 years of work as an adjunct (low-paid but man, I loved teaching) I finally got a TT position at a campus I was happy to call my new home--great colleagues in the department and on campus (except for the dean, who was a douche of the first order) and I settled in and worked my ass off to get tenure. And not just to get tenure--to make the campus better, to help the students more, to encourage engagement with ideas beyond the classroom. I. loved. my. job. Every day was a new opportunity to talk about things I was interested in with people who were also interested in those things. I'd never felt so good (and truthfully, so stressed--but the stress came from loving the job to the point that I didn't know what I would do if I didn't get tenure).

I still love my job. But I don't know if I can love it much longer at the expense of my family, and my hopes for the future. 

I have been teaching for 15 years, and my salary is $44,500/year (so take-home is approx. $32,000). Like most of my colleagues, I work unpaid over the summer on course prep and professional development (writing). Every spring comes the cutting back--to save for the summer months I won't receive a paycheck. June 1 is the last time I see any money until October 1. September is the worst month because I have to start paying for daycare (in mid-August) before I have any money coming in to pay for it. Hubby's salary is less than mine, but since he works a lot of overtime in the summer, we're almost able to make it without resorting to credit cards to buy food. I think this summer I might have to get a third-shift job, because if my pension and health care contributions are taken out (as they always are) in June, this year the cost will be staggering (4 months' worth out of the June check to continue coverage over the summer) if the governor's budget repair bill is passed.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't being vilified by the Republicans in this state as one of the "haves" simply because I have decent benefits. Benefits which make up some of the gap in pay (but not all of it) between what I earn as a public servant and what I might earn in the private sector. 

So many people do not understand what it takes to be a teacher (at any level)--what kind of dedication to the betterment of others is required of a person who wants to teach. Teachers do not go into their profession to get rich. We don't go into it for "summers off"--I don't know anyone who truly has the summer off--and we certainly don't go into it expecting people to kick us in the stomach. The New York Times today has an article whose focus is mainly secondary ed, but the same applies to post-secondary educators as well--we are scorned. 

I have already taken a 5% pay cut and an increase in my class sizes, and continued to do my job to the best of my ability, but my smile is slipping.

Why am I doing this? I need to teach, but I need to provide for my family. I never expected to be rich being a teacher, but I thought I would be able to have a good, middle-class life. Not so much. Don't own the house we live in (which only has 2 bedrooms so the Things are currently sharing). Don't go on vacations (not even to celebrate milestones this year like being married for 10 years or finally getting tenure after 20 years' worth of striving).  At the rate I'm going, I cannot save for my own retirement, much less the Things' college educations. I feel like a failure on so many levels.

I love teaching. I love feeling like I make a difference every day. But knowing that the people of this state don't value the job I work so hard to do well makes it really fucking hard to get up and keep doing it.

OK. My elbow is sending shooting pain down my arm to my hand. Time to call it a night, because I have to get up and grade papers, journals, and posts tomorrow.