My Maniacal Rant, Chapter One, Part Three

[Author’s Note: This writing project, The Maniacal Rant of a Community College “Professor,” started about two years ago, in the fall of 2012. I began writing a book that was intended to be a collection of memoirs. These memoirs were intended to testify about my experience as an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in Northwest Indiana. My goal was to highlight the indignities I experienced, campaign for change in an unjust education system, draw attention to problems in our greater society, and share details of my incredible life story. I finished two chapters of the book, formed the majority of a third chapter, and planned fourteen more chapters. When I started this blog two months ago, I’ve found my goal as a writer has not changed much. I’ve decided it’s time to share the text from my memoirs. I intend to transcribe the text of my book periodically in this blog under the title My Maniacal Rant. Chapter One, titled “Profession as Confession, or the Professor Confessor” will be told in approximately eight parts. Enjoy.—SG]

There’s a simpler rationale for my uncomfortable use of the title of “professor” when referring to what I do. The nature of the college system requires that I do not refer to myself as a professor. You see, I have a Master’s degree in English. Professors should have doctorates. It’s that black and white.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I am a teacher.

“What grade do you teach?”

“I teach in college.”

“Oh!….So what do you teach?”

“English composition and rhetoric, argument, literature, some philosophy and history, technical writing, linguistics, poetry, and a bit of anthropology.”

“Then, you must be a professor!…and you must get paid handsomely!”

The conversation usually denigrates from there as I attempt to explain what I do to a disinterested and disbelieving individual. This especially deteriorates as I communicate that I continue to live in poverty as an overworked teacher in the Indiana system of education:

“You see, I have to grade and prepare for English composition classes, which administrators try to fill my classes with over thirty students…almost one hundred in the case of distance-learning sections…and it takes me about a half hour to grade each of my students’ six major papers per semester…I have to spend that much time on each because it’s more than just correcting spelling; it’s how do you communicate to the student on how to become a better writer! It takes a lot of attention, and trust me, the other English teachers at Ivy Tech just circle a few errors and slap a letter grade on the students’ paper. I’ve seen it! They take no time at all! You can do that in English, I guess, because the grading is so subjectively based. I can’t stomach the fact that this one woman at Valparaiso—I’d tell you her name but it’d probably come back and bite me on the ass—anyways, her system consists of giving A’s to students she likes and F’s to anyone else who misspells one word…or even uses any type of personal pronoun! You can’t use ‘they’ or ‘them’ in your writing, or she will give you an F! I refuse to do that, even though I only get paid about $50 to $60 a week per class to do this. I usually lie to people about my salary because it’s too embarrassing. So, I end up spending about 30 hours a week outside of my office hours at home just grading. That’s it! No time for preparation, reading scholarship, or eating, sleeping, or even breathing, in some cases! Just grading papers! My weekends are so busy, but everyone else seems to be relieved when Friday comes. There’s a reason why all of the administrators I confront about teaching run from me when I ask them about it. I swear. If I hold my folder out to them and suggest that they try my role at that God-forsaken clown college for one solid week, then I would be happy to take on their duties for the rest of the God-forsaken semester…and you know what they do? They barricade themselves behind their office door and hope that I go away!…[awkward pause] Sorry about the outburst…I’m really not sure what I am doing here…I should be at home grading papers.”

When I’m at a bar or party, new acquaintances will usually interrupt me before I can finish my rant and politely excuse themselves from my presence. Those who know me will distract me with sports talk, usually with reliably safe results, depending on the volatility I experienced that particular week within Ivy Tech Valparaiso’s three-ring big top.

The logistical fault-lines of the English and philosophy scholar lie along the amount of masochistic torture one can take while accepting the collegiate maxim that continued scholarly turmoil is necessary to be taken seriously by the institution. This fault-line resides along the accredited degree requirements, and tenured professors often argue the ideal that a Master’s degree does not merit the full-time position or payroll that is warranted to those with doctorates, mostly because they are worried about their own positions being usurped within an institution that perpetuates the social norm that English and philosophy teachers should be reduced instead of increased. The misconception continues: the English and philosophy disciplines do not produce scholars that contribute anything to the work force, and we have to invest our money into more worthwhile teaching positions, or more fortuitously, into administrative careers.

Since the gateway course that incoming students have to pass is an English composition course, to prove a writing proficiency requirement to obtain any collegiate degree, this specific English class becomes one of the greatest needs for which a college institution needs to find teachers. The volume of these classes requires multiple teachers, which is expensive when utilizing professors. English professors, those with doctorates, for the most part, do everything in their power to avoid teaching these 100-level classes because of the amount of involved writing, personal conferencing, and increased class sizes involved with today’s enlarged enrollments. So, college institutions pay adjunct instructors and limited-term lecturers bottom dollar to perform this necessary function of the college. I’ve earned less than $10,000 a year teaching up to six composition classes a semester as an adjunct.

To use colloquial language, I’ve been working my ass off taking on one of the most difficult and necessary jobs in the college while barely earning enough to survive. The kicker is that our political voices simultaneously tell us that teachers are lazy, and we should learn to tighten our belts a bit. The next illogical step is to hear about all the “job-creation” that needs to take place while politicians eliminate teaching and other job opportunities for college graduates that are more than qualified with a liberal arts undergraduate or graduate degree.

Ivy Tech uses Jim Collins’ inane, “non-business thinking” rhetoric to caution teachers from asking for more money or more time or leniency from administrative constraints, because a great teacher is always waiting to supplant the merely-good teacher who complains too loudly. One of the first administrators I communicated with provided me the pamphlet, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer.

Collins misses out entirely on the business concept of incentive. The reason that our teaching force might be a bit lacking could be the fact that there is little incentive to teach, especially in Indiana. There’s no union, the pay is minimized, and the effort required is thanklessly compounded by administrative panic and ignorance. However, in order to be a great teacher, one must masochistically weather the storm in order to gain experience. Collins might consider that this mysterious pool of “great teachers” might not exist because the truly great teachers might find better employment, different states with better opportunity and support, or just leave the education system out of pure, unadulterated frustration. Indiana and Ivy Tech certainly do not have a clue about incentivizing the teaching profession, especially since they are too busy incentivizing the administrative roles of our state’s education system.

{If you appreciated this writing and want to help support the continuation of this blog, please consider sending a donation to:

Scott C. Guffey
P.O. Box 53
Michigan City, IN 46360

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