Posts Tagged Teaching

Why Job Hunting in the Age of the Internet Sucks

It’s no secret that I’ve been looking for a full time teaching gig of some sort since I finished my Ph.D.  To date, I have applied to five different full time positions in my area.  Recently, I applied to a local community college and I had a really good feeling about the application.  In my mind, I was a good fit for what they were looking for and I have the experience and the degrees to make me an attractive candidate.

Or so I thought, at least.

This morning, I checked the HR website.  Days after I submitted my application materials my application “status” went from “Under HR Review” to “Sent to Committee for Review” which essentially means they looked over my materials and determined that I had the base requirements for the job.  (In the case of a teaching job like this that I essentially had the right degrees.)  When I checked today, my status changed to, “HR determined not selected for interview.”

As of this posting, I’ve received no notice from the college about this decision.  I only know because my own curiosity kept me checking the site on a near daily basis.

Of the five full time jobs that I’ve applied for this year, I’ve heard back from only one other.  For the colleges where I can check the status of my application, most say something vague along the lines of “In progress” or “Sent to committee.”  One college, that I applied to in November of last year, sent me an email to confirm they received my materials but no other communication after that initial response.

All of this makes me wonder about manners in this technological age. Plenty of people discuss the tendency for people to troll forums and such, being assholes because the anonymity of the internet allows them to do so. Penny Arcade even has a comic about it:


Life on the Internetz

It seems some of this has rubbed off into the job search as well. It’s not harassment going on here, and I am not dealing with creeps that think they can say whatever they want to me as I am going through this job search, but the “non-response response” that apparently has become an acceptable form of job application feedback disturbs me.

I could easily whine about how much time I spent on my application materials, especially since almost every full time teaching job requires “supplemental” application materials which often end up being several pages of writing. It’s not that I feel the time and effort I put in the application materials should at least warrant a nicely worded email response that says, “We looked over your materials and appreciate your application.”

What am I saying? That is exactly how this should go. There should be some other means of notification other than me checking the HR portal to figure out if I am still in consideration for a position, especially when I submitted some of these applications months ago.

I am not 100% sure when my status changed for this most recent application, so there is still the chance that I will get that, “Thanks but no thanks” email at some point. I suppose since things on the internet move at lightening speed, I would be more fair of me to wait a day or two to post this, just in case that email does indeed find its way to my inbox. But since they didn’t send an email to me *before* changing my status on the website, I feel fine in posting this mini-rant now.

So much for professional decorum.


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Most of my life revolves around words.  I have been fixated with words for years.  I spend time researching word origins for fun, I write my own words, and I teach other people how to use words.  It’s a good life – one that I enjoy most of the time.

I remember my first semester teaching. I had a student make an appointment to talk with me about her paper and the grade she got.  I was apprehensive – I wasn’t sure what to expect really being my first class and everything.  I knew she was a good student and I also knew her writing was falling short in some ways.  She was assuming that the reader knew what she was trying to say.

So we sat under an old oak tree and she told me the classic line somewhere along the lines of why did I get this grade and I should have gotten an A. I gave her the chance to vent, to get out her frustrations which I suspected weren’t all from my class.  And then I tired to tame the words in my head into a shape she would understand.

Basically, I said, you need to actually say what you’re thinking. You just told me you were thinking that Elisa Allen (from John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums) felt trapped by the hills, the fog, and the fence that contain her flowers.  In the paper, you just list those as parts of the setting of the story but don’t discuss how they relate back to her character.  You need to put the words behind your thoughts and not assume your audience knows what you’re getting at.

I wasn’t sure in that moment if she understood what I was saying but she decided to rewrite and turn it back in.  When she did, I saw marked improvement in her writing – she made her points clearly and I could understand what she was getting and and why.  Her papers for the rest of the semester were all fleshed out like this and I could see where she was making the effort to put my words to work.

Variations of this conversation, in class and in one-on-one situations, colored the rest of my teaching. Only recently have I realized exactly how important that idea is not just in writing but every other aspect of life as well. Your partner, your mom, or your siblings, anyone else in your life that you love… none of them know what you’re thinking. Sometimes you just have to buck up and say it, as difficult as it might be to put words to the feelings.  Don’t ever take for granted that the people around you know without you telling them.

And even so, when you are talking to each other, take the time to suss out what you’re actually saying as opposed to what you assume is being said.  In the class I taught this spring, one of the concepts we constantly came back to is how we, as readers, impact what we read.  You might think words are universal and indisputable but part of the power of words is the fact that meanings are often maleable, moving and shifting like the sun that breaks through the leaves on a summer’s day.

After my mom got sick, my brother and I started talking on the phone more often. I suppose this shouldn’t be news but since we didn’t grow up together we were never really close.  He started telling me “Love ya, Sis” every time we ended a conversation.  It’s amazing the impact those words can have.  Yes, I have assumed that my brother loves me for most of my life, but finally hearing him say the words in such a blatant, honest display is more than a little overwhelming and it’s left me with more kindness in my heart than ever existed before.

Words take work. And risk. And it’s worth it in the end.

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Today has been a good day.  It’s been a day of connections.

I had coffee this morning with a former boss actually, one of those rare experiences where Facebook actually brought me closer to someone pretty damn awesome.  We’ve chatted over email, comparing notes about life and struggles and changes.  We’ve talked on the phone.  But we hadn’t actually seen each other in 16 years.

That’s a long time.

Last night I had been thinking about where I was then – 1995 – just about to start classes at UCSC.  Fresh faced and oh-so-naive.  John was my “boss” at a local radio station where I was a news intern for the summer.  It was a great job – I got to write some quips that he would read on the air the next day and hang out at a radio station.  One of my best friends was working there at the time so I got to see him as well.

It was the perfect job for me at the time.

But I moved to Santa Cruz, and got lost in my university experience.  Not a bad thing – just the way things go sometimes.

I didn’t reconnect with John until he friended a friend on Facebook (the same one from that same radio station).  At first it was just one of those I-kinda-know-this-person connections.  Nothing serious.  Then he started a blog and I’m not ashamed to say his blog was part of the inspiration for me starting this one.

It’s fitting that we both love words and that’s really what connected us from the beginning.  He teaches now and he gets it and that’s awesome.  I knew seeing him today would be great.

But I didn’t expect it to have an awesome outcome.

I decided after I dropped him off at his symposium, that I would run a couple of errands up on campus.  I needed to return my graduation regalia by tomorrow and empty the last box out of my office.  I’ve had my office packed up for weeks and was dragging my feet about finishing, not yet ready to leave my university behind in such a final way.

As I was walking to the bookstore, I ran into one of my profs, one of my all time favorites, actually, and she asked me what I was doing about jobs, etc.  I told her how I was struggling and that with budget cuts even finding part time jobs was difficult.

I won’t go into the details but let’s just say . . . . it was a very good conversation and some good connections were made right there.

Had any moment of my day gone any differently . . . had I not met John for coffee or headed to campus to return my robes . . . had I not parked in metered parking so I could get my last box from my office . . . this connection wouldn’t have been made.

So I guess the moral of the story would be never underestimate how the words you use connect you to the people in your life.  You never know where the awesome might be found.

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Recently, one of my favorite bloggers said the word “bittersweet” was overused.  Of course, she also used it but she explained that she spent some time trying to come up with a different word for that feeling.  Her words stuck with me, partly because I became more aware of the word itself, and mostly because it reminded me of a time I used it.

I remember when I finished my master’s degree, the director of my program surprised me at a department event and asked me to say a few words.  Taken completely off-guard, I stumbled around for a minute and thanked everyone I worked with and thanked him for facilitating such a great program.  Then I closed my short, bumbling speech by saying this was a bittersweet moment for me, leaving a program I enjoyed so much.

This was not the sensation I had finishing the Ph.D.

Completing the defense, and putting the dissertation to bed was total, utter, and complete relief.  I was so glad to be out from under the pressure to complete it, the stress of being evaluated, and doing my own research.  I felt happy (well, until I learned I was losing a summer class and was going to need another job a lot sooner than I expected.)

But I didn’t feel like I was going to miss working on the dissertation.

I’m pretty much done with the whole academic writing thing.  I want to write, I’ve always wanted to write, but I want to write things people are actually going to read.  So I’m working on morphing my dissertation into a popular press book.  It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’ll be able to focus on the parts I enjoy the most – interviews and talking to people about gaming.

But I digress.

That bittersweet sensation returned this week as I realized I was coming to the end of my time teaching at my university.  When I participate in graduation in a couple of weeks, I will be walking with my own students.  Several of them are graduating this year, too.  This is the one time I’ll participate in graduation with students that I’ve taught myself.  My connection to them is stronger than any connection I’ve ever had to other classmates because I feel like I played some small role in their success, even if I was only in class with them for a single semester.

And I know in my mind that this bittersweet feeling will pass, and that this is the end of an era, but that I have new and exciting things to come.  (What those exciting things will look like . . . well, that isn’t clear.  But I have faith they will show up eventually.)

But my heart tells a different story.  My heart knows the larger community I’ve been a part of at this small campus is coming to an end and that I’ll have to start all over again some place new.  I am largely ok with that, but each time I leave a place I’ve lived or a school or a job, there is a small corner of my heart that resonates with the word bittersweet.

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Next week I will teach my last classes for my TAship.  It’s funny in that ironic, not a knee-slapper way, that I’ve been so focused on finishing my Ph.D. that I kinda forgot it really does mark the end of an era for me.  The three years I’ve been on this campus are the longest I’ve taught in the same physical location since I started teaching.  Two weeks ago I visited my adviser’s class and realized more than half of her students were either currently in my class or had been in the last year or so.

I guess that’s what it’s like when you’re teaching at a campus with fewer than 3,000 students.  It’s not an insult to say your students “get around.”  🙂

I dreaded going into class today.  The last time we had a discussion heavy class, I snapped at some of my students because they were chatting with each other instead of talking to the class.  Usually, I ignore such behavior.  My pedagogy generally leans towards the idea that this is your education, if you want to piss it away chatting about lip gloss or boys or whatever else can’t wait until after class, so be it.  And that works for me until it gets in the way of someone else’s learning.  Then I snap.  I think I turned it around well enough – I made it an opportunity for normally too quiet students to participate in class but it’s difficult to tell how the students feel once they’ve been publicly reprimanded.

So I felt the weight of that as I headed into class today, knowing that even if it wasn’t a fresh memory for the girls that I ousted into participating it was there for me at least.

It seemed to take us a while to warm up into the discussion but all of a sudden it seemed like my students were on fire.  They were spouting off some great thoughts and ideas and I could see a semester’s worth of thinking starting to gel.  And one of the quiet students that I snapped at during the last discussion volunteered to participate and shared some really excellent thoughts.  I told her so and she smiled in return.

And as always, those are the moments I live for – the moments where it’s clear I’ve gotten through by whatever means what necessary, and that lightbulb flashes on behind their eyes.

It seems people in the academy complain a lot.  When I told Chris yesterday that I didn’t want to finish the semester and just wanted my summer break to begin, I laughed and said, “Yeah poor me – I have to work for 75 minutes tomorrow!”  (Of course, I spent about three hours getting ready for class but that just doesn’t sound as funny.)

I am not sure why it is so easy to forget those moments, the ones that ultimately make the politics and the job applications and I’m sure my soon to be renewed status of freeway flier.  They seem to flit by, especially when I sit down to read another stack of student papers and automatically correct the their/there/they’re mistakes, or two/too/to, and end up piled in some dusty corner of my brain.  I am going to try and set my desk up in that part of my brain, where all the moments I love about what I do live, and see if that helps me complain a little less.

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I can see my future

I know exactly what is going to happen . . . and I can’t stop it from happening.

This morning, I emailed four more people about jobs and started looking up what it’s going to take to apply for unemployment benefits when my teaching assistantship ends in May.  The good news is I am pretty sure I will qualify for benefits, so I should have some kind of financial cushion for at least the summer until some of the fall part time jobs come open.

As I was putting the emails together this morning, I was reflecting on what it was like the last time I was an adjunct.  Feast or famine pretty much sums it up.

During my first teaching job (the one that screwed me over for this summer) I didn’t know how to play the adjunct game.  I only applied to teach at that one school since, you know, it was the only one in the town where I lived.  I didn’t know that what you’re supposed to do as an adjunct is take a map of where you live and draw a circle representing the distance you are willing to drive in order to make enough money to eat.

This is where you apply for jobs – anywhere within that distance you are comfortable with the commute.  (Or significantly uncomfortable with if you were, like I was back in the day, driving a standard transmission car with no air conditioning or power steering through the Sacramento River Valley during summer.)

It took me a year of slinging shots and mopping floors at a major coffee chain before I figured out I was supposed to apply everywhere within that un/reasonable circle.  (In Redding my circle was rather large – one school 90 miles south and one 70 miles north that I often taught at on the same day. You do the math – I teach English for a reason!)

So this time I know, I understand how the game works, and with that knowledge I’ve applied to literally every school that is accepting resumes or applications for their part time teaching pools.

And this is how I’ve seen my future: fall semester is going to come and I am going to be overwhelmed with offers.  Because of the panic I am in right now about not having a job, I have in all likelihood, put myself out there too much.  Because the thing about contract teaching is you can’t say no.

Once an adjunct passes up an offer, it’s not like you go to the bottom of the list – you fall off it completely and then you’re not considered again.  Or at least, that’s been my experience this far.  I said no once last fall, when I knew if I started a THIRD teaching job on top of my online part time job and my assistantship, I wouldn’t have defended this semester.

Yes, I made the right decision turning down the daily classes they wanted me to teach.

Yes, I successfully defended my dissertation and have my Ph.D.

No, I don’t have a job.  At least, not yet.

What I need to figure out now is when to say yes . . .

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