Friday, March 26, 2010

If not the University, Where?

There has been a depressing (and informative) series of articles posted on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Website, The Academic Bait-and-Switch. Don't read them if you want to maintain the belief that the people teaching at universities are, well, great teachers. Today's, Part 7, deals with the author reflecting on the question as to if he even belonged in a PhD program, or if he belongs in academia. The answer: yes, as he did get the tenure-track job and so is a success. But his vision of those in the PhD program with him, and those who often do go on to be successful is disheartening.

I fell into grad school naively; I did my MA at the same institution as my BA. I wasn't ready for the real world, I loved where I was, I loved literature and I wanted to be challenged. I was at the point that many students go through: I knew there was something more going on, but I was frustrated by my inability to find and understand it. I had bits and pieces, more like feelings or impressions than solid ideas, and I wanted those solid ideas. So I continued. The world opened up to me in one way, and closed off in another. I had a choice once I was done: pursue the job(s) I was trained for (and I was trained in Professional Writing) or go on to do a PhD.

The world of literature and teaching was exhilarating and exciting (yes, I am a dork). I loved every minute of it. Yes, I thought, this is what I want to do. Did I have to deal with annoying and/or toxic grad students? Yes. With inept administrators? You bet. Was it all rosy? Nope, but the day I walked into my classroom to teach my first class the first semester of my PhD, I thought, this is a dream come true. And it was.

But now, because I also dreamed of a family, I find myself on the outside looking in. Boo-hoo. But if I don't belong in higher ed, if I didn't belong in a PhD program, I can't imagine where I did or do belong. High school? When I was deciding what to do, I did consider it, but I was told (no joke) that I was too smart to go and teach high school. Now, I'm overqualified. Go back to professional writing? A bizarre mix of being both over- and under-qualified.

I go over and over the choices I have made leading up to this point in my professional career. I could have torn my family in two, choosing to stay in my tenure-track position in one place while my husband lived somewhere else, away from me and our two kids. I had always been willing to live anywhere, do anything in order to be on the tenure-track. Anything but keep my family apart. And now, I'm living in the middle of nowhere, family in tact, without the one other thing that makes my heart sing: teaching reading and writing.

We all face choices. And now, I'm choosing to try and go at it independently. I know we can't have it all, but I can damn well try.

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