Friday, November 22, 2013

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Over at first draft, Doc, a blogger I like a lot, has a nice post up on the public perception of academics, and specifically the public perception of how our salaries match our workloads.

"’s hard to tell people that I earned my money. Nine years of college (which is pretty minimal for a full run through a Ph.D.) coupled with grad student servitude and cheap labor as a teaching assistant kept me out of the labor market for almost a decade. Meanwhile, people who bailed after high school or an associate’s degree were earning an actual salary for most of that time. In some ways, what I have now might best be viewed as deferred compensation: school came first, money came later.

Even so, I get it when people look at me and don’t want to think, “Hey, he earned it.” Or “Wow, it would be great to have that.” Instead, it’s easier to think that we teach 10 hours a week, get our summers off and pretty much live the sweet life."

Mind you, like Doc I would not trade either my job or my salary for the jobs any of my students do, or the jobs most of the people I know who aren't professors do, for that matter. I love my work, and I have very little interest in selling cars, or being an accountant, or being a lab tech, or making steel.

(Though I do know a guy who's an ecologist for the state.  That's a job I'd trade for.)

But here's the thing: my work is, literally, never done.  In many jobs, when you go home, you're done working.  You go home, you've got the evening and the weekend to spend with your family, or to do with what you will: mess about in your garden, go hiking, see a movie, cook, whatever.

I go home, I spend the next eight hours doing prep.  I spend, literally, the entire weekend working.  Maybe I spend an hour with my kid.  Once or twice a year, I take her hiking or to a museum.  I get up at eight, I never get to bed before two a.m., I teach three classes every summer, and I can't remember the last vacation I had.

All this for just barely enough money to live on.

And I am better off than nearly all academics, and (God knows) nearly everyone in America.

Which doesn't mean I wouldn't like a better life, and doesn't mean I don't deserve one.

For instance: the reason I work so late every night is because I am teaching four & four.  (Well: right now five classes, with four different preps.)  That's an entirely unreasonable workload for an academic.  A reasonable workload is two and two, for anyone who is required to do research, as we are at this university.

This used to be a teaching university.  Teaching universities formerly did not require research, and in that case, a four and four load would be reasonable, barely.  But now they are requiring research, and they have not dropped the teaching load.

For instance: the reason I teach three or four classes every summer is because my salary is so low.  I cannot live on what I am getting paid unless I have summer pay as well.  This is why I am unable to take summers off, and do my extra work (the research work, which in my case is my writing work) over the summer break, which is when it is traditionally done in the academic calendar.  This is also when a great deal of prep work is traditionally done. Instead, I am teaching the very labor-intensive five-week classes during this time.

For instance: another burden is created by the increasing demands of "assessment." Rather than just letting those who can do education get on with the work of educating, administrators and legislators keep adding to the lists of what we have to do each semester, to "prove" we've been educating our students.  This now adds a substantial pile to our workload, and it's a bitter burden, given how useless most of it is.  That is, I don't actually mind the hours of research and prep I have to do, since all that makes me a better teacher and makes my students better educated and smarter; I mind having to fill out little forms and create elaborate charts demonstrating "how goals have been met," not to mention multi-colored spreadsheets that "establish realworld assessment results" because this does nothing to increase anyone's actual learning or education.

And it does use up some of my limited hours and creative energy.  And it's not like I've got that much of either to spare, frankly.

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