Diatribe about Bad Teaching and Personal Circumstance

[Author’s Note—This piece of writing was a companion piece with Monday’s article, “Reaction to Maurice Eisenstein.” I wanted to separate them because the original was intended to be my professional reaction as a former college instructor, and I’d like the professional critique to be taken seriously by the academic community without my personal opinion detracting from its credibility. This portion is my personal reaction involving my own selfish circumstance, being a cast-off college instructor who’s struggling to find work. I have been advised that I am making it difficult to find work as a teacher by venting my frustrations to the world (good advice, too, from a respected mentor…he does understand, however, how thick-headedly stubborn I can be…God bless him). I suppose I am more interested, as a writer, at exposing some of the hypocrisy found in our education system, both on the national scale and locally in NW Indiana. There is a part of me that finds solace in reporting this to the internet world…therapeutic writing is a vice of mine, I confess. Of greater importance to me is revealing to my reader more details of why there is a blog titled “The Maniacal Rant of a Community College ‘Professor’” on the internet. I don’t anticipate any grand reward for myself, where I am granted a teaching position because of my angst; however, I don’t expect to find a local teaching position even if I don’t publish this article. My goal is not to hold back and allow full disclosure of my situation. Perhaps, enough readers might understand some problems in the education system…and I continue to be in the business of providing knowledge through writing.—SG]

What I am about to write will offend the sensibilities of some of my former colleagues. I have already been asked on several occasions to censor myself in this blog, lest I reveal too much about the inner workings of a college institution for which I worked. I’ve even been told that I might endanger the job security of those who are still retained, from the same mouths that are not at all upset by my own lack of job security. The label “whistleblower” has been conveyed, and apparently that is a negative label to incur.

I worry that many will not see the correlation between my claims here and the problem of Maurice Eisenstein, yet I cannot fully reveal my personal discontent and reaction that occurred when I read about Eisenstein’s role without doing so. When seeking counsel about my personal situation from some of these same colleagues, I have asked the question, “Am I a bad teacher?” Their response is nearly unanimous: “No! No! You’re an excellent teacher, but…”

To my colleagues who might be offended by my position and revelation here, I do apologize, but I am compelled to be revelatory here, partly inspired by Eisenstein’s continuance, but mostly motivated by my own circumstance. Herein, I try to reveal the truth to the best of my ability, including how it might paint me in a poor light. I do admit this is purely my own subjective, emotional opinion, and ask understanding from my colleagues that it has become most troublesome for me to continue skirting around the truth of my situation, in order to avoid offending those whom I’ve had the pleasure of calling “friends.”

I am consumed by frustration about my situation as an unemployed college instructor. The source of my frustration remains the illogical policies and the corporatization of the college education system. I have been informed by friends and former colleagues that it is problematic for me to continue to seek work as a college instructor, especially at the institution where I worked for seven years. I have sought opportunity to teach several times at several colleges, and I find no prospect…or solace. Several friends have informed me of their worry for my well-being and that it would be in my best interests to “just let it go.” Their advice usually detracts to my taking the first minimum wage job I can find, dismissing my years of training and experience, in order to find closure on my situation…

…and this blog is a silly idea, too! Heaven forbid I practice what I preach (and my colleagues teach in class) by turning to writing as a potential career choice. I’ve recently had the privilege of being chided by an internet troll for being an unemployed teacher, which only adds to my personal discontent. This troll’s paraphrased, summarized sentiment: “I disagree with you, and I have discovered you are unemployed, which means you must have been fired because you suck; therefore I have discredited and illegitimated your argument entirely.” Everywhere I turn, I find opposition to my aspirations to teach writing to students…except from my former students, who continue to find me on the internet and compliment me on the pedagogy I implemented on their behalf.

When I read Professor Kamalipour’s article concerning Maurice Eisenstein, my initial reaction was, “How does this man get to teach, and I cannot?”

For those who might suggest that I assume and overvalue my own teaching validity, I can only state that at no time when I taught as a college instructor did my students rally and protest against my continued tenure, as this continues to occur to Eisenstein. In fact, on two separate occasions, my students rallied behind me when it was learned of my tenuous status, and they contacted administration en masse in an effort to retain my services as a continuing lecturer. Neither effort was met with much accord.

The irony of this situation—and the detail that strongly focuses my ire on the hypocritical nature of our education system—is that my failure to retain my position as a college instructor stems from my attempt to point out other bad teachers and their unethical behavior within my own faculty.

Several students, almost twenty in number, had demonstrated to me through documented papers and unified testimony that another instructor was grading papers unfairly and not lecturing according to valid disciplinary theory. An appeal was made to me to interject upon these students’ behalf. I did talk face-to-face with this instructor, but I made little headway; in fact, the unethical teaching behavior of this individual became more emphatic, and it seemed to be directed at spiting me personally, as students from the class later testified to me, in anonymity.

I brought up this professor at a departmental meeting of English and communication, and I was shaking and nervous as it was something I was cautioned to avoid…not to make waves for anybody. I revealed the situation using a hypothetically bad teacher, attempting to retain anonymity so as to avoid hurt feelings and emotional response. The offending instructor was not present, but I was prepared to identify this instructor if present, or if this instructor chose to self-identify. Feeling it was my duty as a student-advocate, I felt it was necessary to bring this up, knowing I would be opposed.

As anticipated, I was not met with much agreement by the other faculty…and especially my department head. I still clearly remember a few of the most egregious questions I was asked by one of my colleagues, “Do you really want other teachers looking in and spying on what you do in your classroom?” My response was, “Yes! Absolutely! If I’m a good teacher, then I have nothing to fear….” From the same opposing teacher: “What, do you want someone to lose their job?…to get fired?”

Lest I paint myself as too noble in this exchange, I must admit to allowing my temper to get the best of me. My voice became raised, and an utterance I made, one intended to insult and enflame, I do regret. I challenged my department head, twice, with the claim, “You’re wrong.” I followed with, “I figured we could focus on important things, like what we do in our classrooms, for a change…” If I could go back and re-perform my rhetoric, then I would abstain from letting my temper become enflamed. Because I felt like I was on an island and was being ganged up upon by the majority of my colleagues, I lashed out. Also, this was not my first challenging of authority at my institution; I suppose I earned a reputation as a curmudgeon from many administrators and faculty. I have noticed on several occasions my colleagues’ tendency to purse their lips and stare mutely straight forward when I would begin my multiple dissents, hoping I would just shut up already…I suppose this contributes to my self-appointed moniker, possessing a “maniacal rant.”

Because of these personal characteristics, I feel I lost support from my compatriots. I am slow to admit that it is a personal flaw, as I continue to prescribe to adversarial argumentation; however, I can admit that this personal attribute has done me little good in my goal of being an ombudsman…or retaining my position as a college instructor.

My evidence for this claim: my department head chose to attack me instead of handling the other instructor, even though it was obviously a revelation that such mishandled management of a class was occurring under his watch. He left an anonymous note for me, which I still possess. Here is the transcription:

Just Some Thoughts

You admitted to not submitting an agenda item, but, rather, interrupted another discussion, even though a “blue sky” open forum has been on every agenda, ever.

You disparaged a colleague, and an absent one at that.

You disrespected the chair, who has always been our advocate.

You referred to yourself several times as “brilliant” and not only implied, but, once, directly stated that those with other viewpoints were not so gifted.

You kept on repeating the same point, even after a solution was presented.

You damaged your reputation with your colleagues.

Your coarse demeanor called into question your own classroom management skills.

I would do some image repair and offer some meaningful individual and group apologies.

Just some thoughts from someone who thinks you are better than what was showing on Friday.

Socrates believed we gain out [sic] first measure of intelligence when we first admit our own ignorance.

I found the note insulting, mostly because of my own classroom skills being “called into question,” when my goal was to focus on potentially bad classroom management within our own department. I will admit to referring to myself as a model teacher, in fact, a “master teacher,” as I was referring to an inspirational segment of Waiting for Superman, where Harlem teacher Geoffrey Canada cited his experience of becoming a master teacher and the necessity of good teachers to admit when they have mastered their craft…obviously, I was misconstrued. Because I was insulted, an obvious schism was created between me and my supervisor, and became most difficult for me to continue my professional obligation. The general consensus of my colleagues was that there might be a problem with bad teachers there, but I was the biggest problem in the department. At best, it was communicated that I certainly could have handled it better (yet I am confused by the idea of a presented solution, since no resolution was reached…and bad grading and lecturing still continues at the institution, which is ultimately what I act to prevent, in all cases, at many colleges, including with Maurice Eisenstein).

This meeting was the beginning of the end of my teaching career, as obstacle after obstacle presented itself, preventing me from even teaching as an adjunct…with no support from anyone within my department to retain me. I will admit that this is not the only circumstance that has contributed to my downfall, but it is certainly the primary impetus. Consider that all of these former colleagues continue to teach, and many of them are the aforementioned friends whose advice is for me to abandon teaching and become a carpenter once again (…and the religious comparisons are not lost on me).

When I see bad teaching occur, it causes the hairs on the back of my neck to stand straight up, and I continue to see case after case reported in the news, locally and nationally. When I read about Eisenstein, I could not help but compare him to my own situation. How can someone like this continue to teach, but I am disallowed at every opportunity? I admit to personal obsession over this quandary, to my own detriment. When I grasp for answers, my conclusions are often rooted within failed collegiate policies…and the teachers that enable unethical behavior in order to avoid conflict and controversy…

I admit to emotionally-charged rhetoric here. This situation might best explain why I find myself creating conflict and controversy in this blog, hoping to expose unethical behavior, while advocating for a return to good ethics in our education system. Because of this blog, I anticipate I will have less luck acquiring future teaching appointments, which means I have not cured my so-called subjective “flaw” of emotional expression.

Meanwhile, Maurice Eisenstein gets to continue teaching at my alma mater, to my community, spewing his hatred, approved by collegiate policy and emboldened by failed attempts to remove him, based on his own transparently unethical teaching practices, hateful rhetoric, and academic bullying.

I ask you, my reader, how is this not hypocritical? I continue to search daily for an answer to my plight, and I’d invite any thoughts on the matter…in fact, this issue pervades my thoughts wholly, to the point of physical illness and mental fatigue, and I would appreciate some response to my dilemma through written comment of this blog. Am I, in fact, a curmudgeon, who has made his own bed and should lie in it? Do I overvalue my acumen and have no right to make such an appeal for my own ability to pursue teaching at local colleges? Am I wrong to compare myself to Maurice Eisenstein, a case of apples and oranges? Or, do I have a point about colleges reassessing their inane policies that counter-intuitively work against the professional role of a college? Do I have a right to appeal to my community to teach in local Northwest Indiana, where I have made my home and want to remain, where Maurice Eisenstein is allowed to continue to sell his poison and snake-oil? Should I continue to campaign for better teaching in a college environment, or censor myself for the benefit of making a college instructor’s job easier, perhaps at the expense of a paying college student? Is there some element I have missed that has skewed my calculation for increased advocacy? Should I continue to campaign to be a college instructor, or even continue this experimental blog, promoting better educational practices? Should I accept my fate and seek employment in any other capacity than teacher?

I appeal, in this somewhat desperate act of rhetoric, to the academic community, for explanation or answer. I would like to hear from my college professors, who might defend collegiate policies or provide valid explanation. I would like to hear from college administrators, who allowed for my removal, and continue to block me from teaching opportunity. I would like to hear from college presidents, like Mitch Daniels or Thomas Snyder, under whose presidencies Eisenstein’s tenure continue and mine ended, respectively. I would like to hear from Maurice Eisenstein himself, as he should be allowed the opportunity to refute my assertion of his faulty teaching. I would like to hear from my former colleagues in this public forum, instead of in private conference. I would like to hear from college students, whether they attended my class or not. I would like to hear from the Northwest Indiana community, to which I remain stoically devoted. I would like to hear from the public-at-large, from other states and nations, as some who subscribe to my blog have surfaced. I would even tolerate the opinions of internet trolls, as it seems at times, they are the only ones who give a rat’s ass about what I write on the internet.

I seek answers, as I remain lacking of resolution and seek sweet, unattainable closure on this matter. Enlightenment would be appreciated.

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  1. Transcription of comment from original posting of this article, by Francine Jewett: Well, as you know I was there for many years and saw a lot and one thing we both know is that the world of academe is a tough one. I was attacked for not following the syllabus the director of freshman writing had foisted on us. When a “friend” and colleague reported to her that i had taught a different first lesson from the one in her syllabus, I was threatened by this woman with being fired. For teaching the five paragraph essay instead of a personal memoir. Such a crime deserves a threat of being fired? I was backed up by the then department head and nothing came of it but later this same woman attacked another colleague for leaving office hours early to visit her dying mother in the hospital. This is true.

    As for the above mentioned professor, sick and psycho and everyone knows it. But he is not the only one and one thing I learned, to get along in that sick environment, trust no one. As for your teaching career, you are one of the best. As your former teacher and colleague, I can attest to the fact that you are indeed brilliant, talented, and have a lot f courage to call out the incompetent. The culture of academe is more likely to want to crush the competent who don’t follow the unwritten rules of keep you mouth shut and mind your own business. To see young students bullied and subject to substandard and dangerous teachers is not to be tolerated. But with some very base people lurking to try to climb the ladder on the backs of those who are more competent is common.

    The woman who tried to get me fired taught in the classroom next to mine one semester and at the end of the semester had 9 out of 25 students still enrolled in her class while I had 24. And there began her vendetta and her search for a way to get even. I was also a target because for many semesters i was given the freshman honors writing class to teach and a few people were waiting to vent their wrath over that even though the decision was made by the department to give me that class each semester. So I say, teach if you love teaching. It’s nobody’s business but your own what you do. As for advice from jerks, ignore it. As for academe, and Purdue Calumet, which I know very well, I loved my years of teaching there despite the infighting and backstabbing I saw. I’m retired now and I am proud of my teaching career. It took me ten years of teaching adjunct to get a full time job. I wouldn’t trade anything for those years in the classroom. I would hope Professor Eisenstein gets exactly what he deserves.

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