Saturday, March 08, 2008

My visit might be unbloggable

Damn, I'm tired. I was so nervous/excited the entire trip that I could hardly sleep. I hate not being able to sleep. Also, I grit my teeth. Usually just a little, but now my jaw hurts.

I'm never sure how to disguise my identity or the identities of those I blog about. It's one of the most frustrating things about blogging. I'm not good at office/departmental politics and so I want to blog about those things to get advice.
The situation at Visitation U. is extremely interesting. It's the kind of the thing that confuses me and makes me nervous.

In my previous career, I did something that people either envied, or were repulsed by. I consider teaching a calling. (Interesting, I just realized I that.) My friend, who is a nurse, said to me one time, after I had talked to her about my thought process, in deciding whether or not to go to nursing school, that nursing is a calling. Her view was that people who get into nursing for the wrong reasons grow to resent their patients. Teachers who don't love teaching, I believe, experience something similar.

When I taught outdoor ed, I had to wrangle the energy of 20+ elementary students all day. I had to keep them safe and entertained and learning. This was a lot of work, but something I really enjoyed. I liked being outside and talking about science and nature and trying to show students how learning can be fun. I miss my old job.

Many people, on the other hand, did not want my job. They didn't like the idea of herding large groups of children, of teaching the same lessons, over and over. I got sick teaching elementary students, over and over. I got paid very, very little, because there was a constant stream of young college grads willing to take my job. Never mind that they didn't know how to teach like I did, that I had worked years to learn how to teach well, that wasn't important.

My point is, my previous career wasn't competitive. I worked hard because I wanted to be an excellent teacher. I always hoped to move up, to run my own program and make enough money to pay off my loans and buy a house. When it became clear that it might be years before that happened, I realized I would have to go back to school and get some training. Maybe it was my naivety, I didn't think of being competitive, I just wanted to do my job well.

Academia is competitive. Visitation U. is very interested in me, at least by the standards of my discipline and their middle level status. I'm not used to people paying attention to me. Frankly, it made me nervous. It's all well and good to be a star student in a small department, but then you have to keep that up. You have to be smart and say the right things and kiss up to the right people. I'm more of the say what's on your mind type.

That's one reason I think it might be a good idea for me to change programs. I wasn't very circumspect when I started the program here a B.A.U. I didn't act respectful towards profs who I thought were "phoning it in" or just plain wrong. As an experienced teacher it was frustrating to see people who I wanted to admire, act as if they didn't care, as if teaching was the least thing to them, as if their ideas must be the best and everyone else wasn't worth listening to.

When I started the program at B.A.U., I didn't understand the need to "look smart" and my friends who were nervous to speak up and ask questions confused me. I didn't have something to prove. Now, with this new department, I feel I have to prove that I'm worthy of their esteem. I know it's weird. Who wouldn't be happy to get into a supportive department? They even offered a small scholarship, which I think will continue as long as I'm there.

I have to suppress my desire to tell them I'm not who they think I am.


ArticulateDad said...

Tough call there. It sounds like you'd like to go, but you're worried you might have to become someone you're not (or at least behave that way).

I'll tell you something: when I taught at a community college, after my Master's, I was at the top of my game. I had gained respect and relative success in my field in other ways in the community, and I enjoyed teaching. I thought it was good to jump ship then. At least I know I could always come back to this I thought... I really wanted to get my PhD, to learn how to do real scholarship, write a dissertation, articles, present at conferences, and teach. I did all those things.

But... I can't go back. I was mistaken. Teaching adjunct for little pay, no job security, and no benefits was fine when I was 30, but now with three kids and in my fourth decade, it just won't cut it.

Teaching may be a calling. But what cost are you willing and able to pay in order to answer the call? You may be lucky. You might land a tenure-track gig right off the bat, and possibly be allowed to teach what you find most rewarding. But what if you're denied that opportunity? Are you prepared to spend 3, 4, 7 years as an adjunct?

I say this not to be discouraging. But to prepare you for the possibility. You may do everything right. You may be a fine teacher, and a good scholar. You may complete the dissertation and get your PhD, only to find yourself cast adrift, desperately seeking to find that damned phone that you hear ringing somewhere. If only I could answer that call.

Be ready now, and you'll be ready then, whether you get the teaching gig of your dreams or not. Pursue your dreams. Just do so with your eyes ever open.

Panthera said...

Consider that maybe you just are who they think you are ...

Once burned twice shy I understand but maybe you and Visitation U. should get more credit =)

See you in an hour! Hugs

EcoGeoFemme said...

I think everybody feels "I'm not who they think I am" to some degree. If you can use that to motivate you, it's good. But if it eats away at your confidence, it's bad.

Brigindo said...

Imposter Syndrome is rampant in academia. It is normal to feel like people who admire you will eventually "learn" you're really not up to snuff. Support and scholarships are great but most important is do you feel a fit with Visitation U? Can you be productive there? Can you do the type of work you want to do and learn what you feel you need to learn? If so, and they think you're wonderful, I'd say go for it.

Anonymous said...

i know how you feel, it seems like we are contstantly having to perform. i am worried about not being who they think i am either. and i too think teaching is the best part and do not like writing or research as much, i wish i could just teach awesome classes. argh, it is hard. but if you like Visitation U, and they like you, you should go. i think at some point we find people within our discipline/departments that we can be truly "ourselves" with. good luck!