On Making a Living

This week UNCW hosted a round table discussion on how to find an academic teaching job with an MFA.  The beginning was rather bleak.  Our Department Chair launched into a frank discussion of how there are next to zero jobs available in academic at research universities or otherwise prominently-known, large colleges for writers.  That unless we had two books or more in hand upon applying, that it was best to just skip that application and save yourself some time.

I’ve actually known this since before I even decided to apply to an MFA.  I have been cautioned once over by countless relatives and friends and professors and colleagues.  The odds of landing a cushy, tenure track job are akin to finding prizes in cereal boxes anymore.  Lore of the past.

But, our Chair was quick to point out, as other mentors of mine in the past have done once they see the “But I still want to…” look in my eyes, that many good jobs as lecturers and instructors exists at smaller, teaching colleges and community colleges–and that many of those have a good enough chance of turning into a tenure track position.  The only catch? You have to be willing to teach.  A lot.  And let that be your focus far more than publishing (the opposite being true at research/large universities and private colleges).

This new actually thrilled me before I came here.  I am a teacher!  That is part of my identity!  I already have a Master’s in Education!  I went back to graduate school because I couldn’t find any teaching jobs teaching English/writing full-time at the secondary level and thought I’d try out getting a credential to teach college instead!  No problem!

And yet–I’m realizing/remembering that teaching demands a lot of energy, so much so that oftentimes I find myself depleted of the creative impulse that got me interested in reading/writing in the first place.  I’m also struggling with how to effectively communicate how to improve one’s writing to students who, let’s face it, don’t really read a lot of literature these days anymore, and as such, are devoid of the main source of my education in What Makes Writing Good.  The answer is harder to explain in bullet points than it is in passages of classics.  It can be all too easy to get swept up in pedagogy before you realize the sun is setting and your personal craft is languishing yet another day.

That said, I am grateful for the momentary reminder that teaching is learning.  The more I am forced to slow down and re-consider the basics, the more honed my own understanding of the creative choices I make in my own writing are, and, the tighter my writing often is–when I get a chance to sit down and do it.

So, despite the panic that such a meeting induced, I’m glad I am apart of a community determined to educate me, not just in the ways of writing, but in the ways of making a living, if not from it, than from a job still steeped in writing culture.  It’s still a year off, but I have plenty I need/want to accomplish before I start going on the market, looking to land a teaching job that will allow me to teach and discuss literature, communication, and rhetoric.  Most of that involves sending more of my work out so I can garner publications, continuing to hone my teaching craft with my 201/intro students, volunteering with Writers In Action to keep my secondary skills up (I’ll be teaching 7th grade starting this week for two hours), and re-writing my CV.  And of course continuing to be a grad student who networks enough to find killer letters of reference.

I’m glad too I went to such a meeting as a second year, since I’ll have to go on the market a year in advance from when I graduate (given the cycle of academic jobs–the hiring process often takes about 9 months from the time an opening is posted to the time it is filled) and will have to juggle finishing my thesis with applying for jobs (which anyone who has ever applied for a job knows is a full time job in and of itself).    I felt bad for the onslaught of anxiety I felt from 3rd years sitting in the meeting as it dawned on them that the time to start sending out resumes/cvs for jobs that would start after graduation is…well, now.

All of this to say: I’m going to need to start setting my alarm earlier.  Or letting Daisy, my kitten, in my room, as she’s taken to lightly gnawing on my nostril and then licking it (gross? sweet?  you decide) around 5:45 AM.

The other option is, of course, adjuncting and freelancing and/or working for non-profits for kids and art, which are topics for another post.  And/or waitressing.  Womp womp. Or, you know.  Just writing that best-seller out of no where.  No big deal.  My uncle actually has plenty of ideas for me, but they involve, somewhat disturbingly, a combination of Vince Flynn mutant engineer-types and 50 Shades of Grey.

P.S. I feel more glad than ever I decided not to quit Bread Loaf and to keep doing it in the summers even as I went for my MFA full-time.  Despite the ridiculousness/exhaustion of striving for two Master’s degrees at once, in the end, I will be accredited to teach both Creative Writing AND English at the college level, which apparently has been a problem barring some MFA-only grads from teaching in English Departments around the state.

P.P.S. Stay tuned, readers, for a really awesome announcement regarding where you might be able to read my work online starting in the next few weeks!

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Filed under north carolina, poetry, teaching, writing

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