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.

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