Off to Work We Go

Week two of summer courses has officially come to an end, and I find myself conflicted by the prospect of actually working for the entire summer.

I have never truly worked all summer. Not to the point where I’ve had to turn down outings and vacations because “I have to work.” While I had “full-time” campus jobs during the summers in college and graduate school, I was always able to leave early for concerts or take off some time for trips. Not having that luxury this time around has left me feeling just a tad bitter. Seriously, I had to turn down an offer for a free week at the beach with my boyfriend because I can’t cancel that many class periods. Even if I could, I’d still have to teach online from the beach for a different school, and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone involved. So I’m just out of luck this summer.

Having said that, though, it feels good to be steadily productive throughout the summer months. My schedule is pretty generous, and I have three great groups of students. My fourth course (online) does not even begin for over another month. Money aside, I would probably be going crazy if I didn’t have anything to do right now. I worked every summer at my campus job in undergrad, had a library job and coursework during grad school, and treated finding a job as a job itself last summer. I haven’t had a true summer “off” since the months between junior and senior year of high school. I wouldn’t even know how to cope.

So, as I gaze out of my classroom window, frantically typing these words as my students complete a writing exercise, I find myself daydreaming of a world in which I have a full-time job, a world in which I get paid all summer without having to teach a single class, a world in which I can work on my article and conference proposals and be free to take any damn trip I would like.

Oh, what a wonderful world that would be. But, until then, it is off to work we go.

Adequate Inadequacies

Honestly, I have to admit that I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself this week.

I’m overworked and over-stressed, a result of a perfect storm of professional obligations, student assignments, and a healthy dose of procrastination. My hands have been cramping from all the handwriting and typing I’ve been doing, and, no matter how many hours I work, I just don’t seem to make a dent in the pile at all. Once I cross one thing off the list, two more just seem to pop right up.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve felt this way since I finished graduate school. Even though last semester I was teaching two more courses than I am currently, I did not have any “coursework” of my own. Signing up for a professional development course requiring 6+ weeks of graduate-level work was probably not the smartest move I could’ve made, especially since I found out shortly after that I would also have 3 weeks of extensive training for a new online teaching position.

Needless to say, after I accidentally attached a blank document to a training assignment and was not familiar with the course management site enough to fix (or prevent) the issue two hours before the final deadline, I had a full-blown academia-induced breakdown. I’ve been about a year overdue for one, so it felt sickeningly familiar in some way.

This little breakdown has been the crowning glory in my feelings of inadequacy this week. I’m a perfectionist with a fear of failure, so every little mistake I make seems detrimental. I’m feeling like an inadequate instructor because I can’t keep up with my grading because of my professional obligations, and I’m falling behind in my professional obligations because of grading. I’m feeling inadequate in my field because I don’t have a Ph.D. and, at this rate, don’t know when I’ll get one. I’m feeling inadequate because my boyfriend from an upper-middle class family finally realized how run-down and cluttered my home is compared to his. I’m feeling inadequate because I can’t look the way I want to or dress the way I want to or do all of the things that I want to do.

I’m feeling inadequate because I’m 25 years old and still waiting for my life to really start. But, I guess this is a rather adequate inadequacy to have.

 

Academic Incest

One concern I often face as a young professional is the fear of committing academic incest.

When I was in college and applying to graduate programs, I received mixed feedback regarding my decision to apply to the M.A. program at my undergraduate institution. Some thought that staying at my home institution would be the best decision I could ever make, while others warned that earning my B.A. and M.A. from the same school would reflect poorly upon me later on.

Since I was offered full funding, I did indeed stay at my home institution for graduate school. This experience, as I’ve mentioned before, completely altered my career path and changed my life in so many ways, so I certainly wouldn’t change that decision. But, when I approached graduation, I was faced with the same conflicting feedback again. On one hand, friends and family were lamenting the fact that I couldn’t continue on at the same school to earn my PhD. On the other hand, some of my mentors celebrated the fact that I would finally be moving on, either to further my graduate studies or to start a career.

Of course, that didn’t quite happen either. While I am gaining teaching experience in other schools and contexts, I am still at my home institution as an adjunct instructor. I am now hired to teach the undergraduate student body I belonged to just three years ago. And, if I get things my way, I have no intention of leaving. If a full-time position at my university became available, I would apply as soon as possible. And I firmly believe I would be quite content staying in that role for the foreseeable future.

Several members of our department completed their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees at the university. In fact, many of the full-time lecturers were teaching assistants in the same program I was in. So many of us were so content with our experiences as students that we wanted to return to our roots and stay put. And that’s one of the things I love the most about my department and my university.

So why is there such a stigma against academic “incest” anyway? After all, who knows the campus and the students at a university better than those that have been students there themselves? Doesn’t this show commitment to the university’s values and a loyalty to the department that bred us? I’m not sure I can buy into the idea that this is a negative thing.

What are your thoughts on so-called academic “incest”? Share them below!

 

Mile Markers

Today, two of my friends announced their engagement. Of course, this announcement was not out-of-the-blue; the pair have dated for several years and have lived together for a couple of those years. But, still, this engagement is a milestone they (and everyone around them) have been waiting for. This time last month, my friends’ lives were business as usual, but now they have been whisked away by a whirlwind of elation and wedding planning.

The excitement and happiness I feel for the two of them makes me daydream about my own potential engagement someday. After all, that’s what I’m expected to do. It seems that once an adult relationship reaches a certain point, the countdown to engagement automatically begins, whether the couple acknowledges this or not. Once a relationship crosses this threshold, it ceases to be a relationship for the mere sake of being a relationship. Instead, it becomes a countdown to the engagement milestone. Eventually, those around us will start expecting it, just like I expected my friends’ engagement. At this point, there’s really only two options for how this thing can go: either he’ll “put a ring on it” or the relationship will come crashing down in fiery chaos.

So is this what adulthood really is? Just a series of milestones we live to check off of our lists?

We spend our high school years preparing to get into college. We go to college to enter into a job and begin our careers upon graduation. We land an interview and then land the job. We move out on our own and begin to establish ourselves. We find a partner, move in with them, get engaged to them, and marry them. Shortly after, we have children. This is what society expects out of us before the age of thirty. Our young adult years are a ripe time for important milestones, and our success is measured by which ones we reach, how quickly we reach them, and in what order they occur.

While I certainly want all of these things for myself, I don’t want to sit around just waiting for the next milestone to occur. I want to live my life fully in the in-between. I want to keep pushing myself to do better and be better and enjoy every moment. That way, the milestones won’t be my only crowning achievements but extra-sweet moments in an already sweet life.

I Guess This is Growing Up

In two weeks, I will turn twenty-five.

Back in high school and even in undergrad, I thought I would have my whole life figured out by now. I thought I would be settled in a career, married, and maybe even a mother by this point. I truly believed I would be a full-blown adult by now. The closer I actually got to the age of twenty-five, the more I realized that the vision in my head was a flat-out joke.

Instead of living some picturesque version of adulthood, I’m mostly flailing about, trying to figure out my life while holding my shit together. In fact, with each new phase of my life that I enter, the more chaos I seem to encounter. My mid-twenties are definitely the most tumultuous years I’ve experienced so far. Especially without the structure of school, life is incredibly freeform right now. While some people might find that to be exciting and freeing, I find it to be utterly obnoxious and, at times, utterly terrifying.

Over time, the pieces of my life puzzle have slowly started to fall in place. While I’m still not in a full-time job, I at least have a clear-cut vision of what I want to do with my life, and I’m working my ass off in multiple part-time positions to make that vision a reality. I’m still living at home, but I have concrete goals for moving out and am actively trying to become more independent. I’m over a year into the best relationship I’ve ever been in and have started to seriously consider the fact that this might be the man I’m going to marry. The players are all lined up; now the wait is on to see if they all fall into position to play the game.

I’m so close to having the life I want for myself. In some ways, this terrifies me more than the periods in which I have felt totally lost and directionless. I’m so afraid I’m going to screw something up that will prevent this rather feasible dream into becoming an activity. I’m afraid that I will have to reinvent myself yet again and set off on a totally new path, a path that, for once, I don’t want to venture down.

My friends seem to be in similar states of disarray. Everyone is in the middle of career changes and identity crises. It’s kinda like we’ve been living these semi-artificial lives and now we’re all in flux, transforming into the people we’re really supposed to be. It is a crazy, scary, exciting, fun, awful, weird period of life to go through.

Well, I guess this is growing up.

The Great Escape

I have lived in one place my entire life. It only seems natural, then, that one of my main goals since high school has been to get out of my hometown.

It started with dreams to go away for college. I really wanted to go to a school about an hour away from home, but my family simply couldn’t afford it. As it turns out, I didn’t even apply to any schools outside of the two universities in my hometown. There was no point in getting my hopes up.

So, college was not my chance to break away. In undergrad, I started to look at grad school as my opportunity instead. In addition to the graduate program at my  home institution, I applied to schools in other parts of my state, as well as schools in other states. My mother was a little concerned about me potentially moving several hours away, but I was confident I could handle it.

The possibility became tangible when I was accepted into a MFA program in northern Ohio. While I liked the idea of establishing my independence and studying creative writing, this particular program was definitely not the program at the top of my list. Suddenly, three hours from home felt really far for a program I wasn’t completely in love with, especially with two less-than-healthy parents. Surprising myself, I turned down the offer of admission, even though I thought the decision meant that I would have to take a year off from school.

Of course, as it turned out, choosing not to attend that university for graduate school turned out to be one of the most important decisions of my life.

A few days after I turned down the offer, I was given full funding to attend my home institution’s MA program. During my time in the program, I fell in love with teaching, fell in love with rhet./comp., and met the man I would eventually fall in love with. The decision not to move away from hoe changed the course of my career, my love life, and my identity. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if I had moved away right after undergrad to pursue an MFA.

So, with my Master’s degree earned at home, I set my sights on moving out for my PhD. This would be a move out of necessity, not choice; the closest PhD programs in my chosen field are both about an hour away. Getting into any program I applied to would be a guaranteed ticket out of my hometown. But, then, life happened. I got so caught up in trying to teach, grade, attend courses, do homework, meet department requirements, and attend conferences that I didn’t have any time, energy, or sanity left to apply to PhD programs in my last year of graduate school. After a significant mental breakdown, I resolved myself to taking a year off to work and focus on preparing my materials.

That did not go quite as planned either. I taught five classes last semester and barely made enough money to recover from a summer of no employment and the new financial responsibilities I had recently taken on. I couldn’t really afford the large amounts of money needed to take the GRE, send my transcripts, and cover application fees. With five classes, I also had so much grading and course prep to do that I hardly had enough time leftover to work on application materials and still maintain my meager social life. I finally resolved myself to the fact that I needed to put off applying for another year.

Now, I’m about a year away from the next application deadlines, and, for the first time in my young adult life, I don’t know if I really want to leave. It all appears in my mind so vividly. I can see myself taking a full-time job and getting a little apartment in an artsy neighborhood. I can see myself creating my own little life here with my boyfriend.

And, for the first time, I can see what a good little life it would be.

 

All’s Well That Ends Well (or Something)

The end of the calendar year is officially upon us.

Of course, anytime that one year comes to an end and another one is set to begin, we as humans naturally resort to nostalgic reflection, introspection, and prediction. We think about what went wrong in the last twelve months, what went right, and what we can do to make the next year an even better one (or, at bare minimum, a slightly less disastrous one). Every new year is chance to start again.

So, how does 2016 rate?

I think most Americans (and people in plenty of other countries) can agree that 2016 has been far from the brightest star in our collective sky. With notable celebrity deaths, global travesties, and a shit-show of a presidential election, I wouldn’t be surprised to find many people breathing a quiet sigh of relief when the clock strikes midnight and 2o16 finally slips away for good.

Putting all that aside, though, 2016 hasn’t been a bad year for me personally. In fact, 2016 has been packed full of firsts and milestones, both good and less-than-good. In the past twelve months I:

  • saw my first published academic/scholarly article in print
  • started dating my coworker/classmate-turned-friend
  • got into my first car accident
  • bought a new-to-me car for the first time
  • turned 24
  • went to Seattle with two of my TA friends
  • presented at an academic conference in Seattle with those TA friends
  • presented at writing center conference
  • graduated with my M.A. in English with a concentration in writing
  • had an awesome Harry Potter themed graduation party
  • got hired as an online writing tutor
  • went on vacation with a boyfriend for the first time to a place I had never visited
  • did all kinds of boyfriend-related things for the first time
  • celebrated 6 months with that coworker/classmate-turned-friend-turned-boyfriend
  • witnessed more than one major parent-related health crisis (again)
  • got hired to continue teaching at my home institution and to teach at the local community college
  • taught a total of seven college composition courses
  • had a final-round interview for my dream job
  • celebrated the holidays with friends, family, and my boyfriend’s family

In total, 2016 has been nothing short of a hectic, stressful, rewarding, surprising year full of twists and turns. While not everything that occurred this year was ideal, I don’t really regret anything; good things always seem to come out of the negative ones. In a lot of ways, this year wasn’t so much about being perfect…it was about setting the stage for where I want to go and who I want to be. I’ve accomplished so much professionally since I graduated in May, and my love life is more fulfilling than it has ever been before. I have good friends, supportive family, and a job I love. I’m not quite where I want and need to be, but I’m definitely headed in the right direction. I’m on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s what I think 2017 will bring.

So, friends, let’s say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the possibilities that 2017 holds. It’s going to be a great year.

 

The Peer Review Problem

As a composition instructor, peer review is one of my favorite things. In fact, it might be my favorite thing about teaching composition. I love hearing students engage in dynamic conversations about writing. I love watching them realize that they do know how to recognize good writing and that each individual has a unique way of approaching the assignment. I love how peer review truly allows students to become active agents in their own learning.

Ironically,  I hated peer review as a student. I didn’t like the written feedback method, and reviewers never really said anything. So, in my first year as a college composition instructor,  I took it upon myself to experiment with different styles of peer review in an effort to find a method that students would benefit from and, maybe, actually enjoy.

Amazingly, I was successful in this endeavor. I found not one, but multiple, methods of peer review that my sophomore students liked better than the standard written response. As I would walk around the room, I would hear genuine and in-depth conversations about the papers, writing in general, and the students as writers. I continually received strong essays from students who took peer review seriously. It was fantastic.

Now that I’m in my second year of teaching entirely on my own, I have tried these same methods with my first year students at multiple institutions. With one group of students, peer review is going fantastically. In the other classes, though? Not so much. They try the methods, sure. They follow the directions, yes. But they’re breezing through the workshops as quickly as possible. For the most part, these students are not having the genuine conversations I am trying to encourage them to have.

It’s all so frustrating because I don’t think they understand how important this is and how beneficial it can be when given the proper amount of time and effort. I don’t think they care about helping their classmates become better writers. I don’t think some of them even care about becoming better writers themselves. But I will keep trying. I will keep experimenting with new styles and gaining student feedback. I will conquer the peer review problem.

Fellow composition instructors, do you have particular methods of peer review that you like to use? Leave them as a comment! I’d be happy to share any of my methods as well!

 

Dangerous Daydreams

Whenever I am faced with a new possibility or an important decision, thinking about it extensively tends to bring about more harm than good. I either obsess over everything that could potentially go wrong, or I obsess over everything that could potentially go right. Surprisingly, the latter is the more dangerous of the two.

Take this recent job application, for example. As soon as I hit the “submit” button on the electronic application, my mind immediately started to sprint through every possible bad outcome: Am I even qualified for this job? Are they going to just look at my application and laugh? They’re probably going to just throw my application away. What if they already hired someone and just forgot to take the posting down? Did I even apply for the right position, or did I accidentally complete the application for another job? This is not a realistic possibility at all, so I shouldn’t have even bothered to apply. The list could go on and on.

In order to talk myself off the ledge of self-doubt, so to speak, I had to do a little bit of confidence boosting: Of course I’m qualified for this job. I meet all of the minimum requirements and the majority of the preferred requirements. This is work that I know and love. They’re not going to laugh at my application. The email notification from HR confirms that I applied for the right position. Since I am well-qualified, this is a realistic possibility. If I don’t get a callback, then I’ll know that this just wasn’t the right job at the right time. After all, I could never get the job if I didn’t take the risk and apply for it in the first place!  

This strategy works well…for a minute or two. Then, instead of reversing back into denial, my mind suddenly does an illegal u-turn into the “what if” scenarios: Well, if I get this job, I won’t have to apply to PhD programs this year. I might not have to apply to programs ever. I won’t have to move away from my family, my friends, or my boyfriend. I would be making good money with good benefits. I could still live at home a year, pay off my car, make good headway on my student loans, and then move anywhere I wanted to in the area. I would have an office all to myself. I could hang my diplomas in my office! What kind of frames would I put them? And so the madness continues, ranging from considering the sense of security and fulfillment a full-time job would bring, clear down to what kinds of forms I would use. The more out-of-control my thoughts run, the more dangerous they become. After all, the more excited I get, the more I can visualize myself in that position, the more disappointed I will be if it doesn’t work out.

I guess if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that life requires a healthy balance of self-confidence and self-doubt. We need to believe in ourselves, our knowledge, and our talents. At the same time, though, we need to recognize that there is a right time and a right place for everything. We are exactly where we need to be, even if it doesn’t always seem to be where we want to be.

So, is this new job where I’m meant to be? Only time will tell.

Uncertain Certainties

At this moment, my hands are trembling, my heart is racing, and I vaguely feel like I might vomit at any moment.

No, I didn’t get into a car accident, or find out I’m pregnant, or violently wake up from a dream in which I’m falling into a deep abyss. All I did was apply for a job.

Not just any job, though…my dream job. Or, more specifically, the most realistic manifestation of my dream job that I could possibly obtain at my age and level of experience. The real kicker? It’s at a university right here in my hometown. I wouldn’t even have to move. It is truly the perfect job: a true career directly in my desired field, where I don’t have to leave my family, friends, and boyfriend behind or go to school for several more years, with the economic stability a full-time job with benefits brings. Except for in my wanderlust-fueled fantasies, I couldn’t imagine a better situation.

Honestly, it’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have even been looking at job postings. I don’t need a job right now. I’m more than sufficiently employed for this semester, and I am basically guaranteed the same level of employment next semester. I’m supposed to be applying to PhD programs in the coming months, after all, and a “real” job was only to be a consideration next spring if I found out I wasn’t accepted anywhere. I had no business prowling university job postings yesterday.

Yet, I did, and I can entirely blame my tendency to eavesdrop in public spaces.

Allow me to explain. Since I am an adjunct professor, my office spaces are all open, shared environments. I was in one of these said spaces prior to a class I was teaching, just minding my own business (mostly) and polishing my PowerPoint for the day’s lesson, when I overheard two separate, but equally important, conversations: a telephone conversation in which an adjunct was telling his mother that another adjunct had gotten hired full-time at a library, and a conversation between two other instructors about how applications for tenure-track positions were due soon.

Hearing these two conversations, especially within mere moments of each other in the same room, really made me stop and think. Should I already be looking at job listings? Was I missing out on full-time positions?

I can’t stand to be left out, so I decided I would go ahead and take a look. Just for shits and giggles, you see. I knew for a fact that my home institution wasn’t hiring full-time employees in my field, and wouldn’t be until summer (if at all). I was also pretty sure that the community college I’ve been working at wouldn’t have anything either. So, I decided I would look at the public four-year university’s postings. Again, just for shits and giggles.

Imagine my surprise when one of the first listings on the site is not only relevant to my degree, but my damn dream job. Right there, right down the street. And with qualifications I actually meet. I couldn’t believe my eyes, my luck, the chances of this odd encounter with this job posting.

So, today, I updated my CV, wrote a new cover letter, and applied for my dream job right here in my hometown. I, the girl with three jobs, responded to a job posting I never should’ve seen in the first place. It’s been one of those weird, cosmic-aligning instances that my entire career has been based on.

Now, I’m left with bated breath and a nervous heart, waiting to find out what fate holds for me.