job hunting

Hired!

Today, almost two years since I started looking for full-time work, I found some. I’ll be teaching 8th grade English at a charter school starting Monday morning.

“Two years” is a long time, but it’s not as though I spent 100 weeks constantly pushing out applications. No, the first stage of the job hunt was job-hunt academic style: compiling ridiculous portfolios, forking over money to Interfolio to manage and send the documents, then sitting on my hands for months waiting for any hint of broken silence. (And looking at the job wiki to discover when candidates had been invited to interview and the silence was meaningful rather than negligent.)

I took some time off from job hunting, too, once my spouse and I decided to move the family down to Texas. I was recovering from my decision to leave and taking care of the kids full time. There was no reason (I thought) to begin looking for a job 1200 miles away. I had not even decided what kind of jobs to look for. Soon enough, I was busy with the move.

Once we got to Texas, I started hunting work in earnest. Despite an initially rosy job outlook for my significant other, neither of us had landed steady employment in our first six post-move weeks. My spouse started doing some face-painting gigs, and I started substitute teaching. Reluctantly. We needed the money. My daughter was in pre-K, home at 10:45 in the morning. We could call on relatives to help out watching her (and my son when he got home around 3), but for a long while parental responsibilities kept me from subbing every day, especially once my spouse found a full-time job.

I kept applying for jobs in that stretch. Technical writing. Copywriting. Advertising. Intro-level design jobs. Proofreading. Editorial. One coordinator position that I particularly wanted that was nearly identical to the one I’d had between my master’s and doctorate. I got zilch. As with the academic searches, the “answer” was almost always silence. The few actual rejection notices I got were HR boilerplate. The situation was disheartening (and I commented/complained about it regularly here on Walking Ledges).

In March, I got my first long-term sub assignment. It was at a pretty “easy” school with a reasonable socio-economic mix of students. Some were startlingly wealthy, but the school stopped short of being a suburban island. Getting to teach, to have some control over the lessons and deliver content rather than worksheets…that was good. Combined with the fact that I had finally realized I needed more (or different) qualifications on my resumé, my experiences as a long term sub were enough to push me into an alternative certification program that I had rejected when first looking for work.

At the beginning of the summer, everything looked rosy. We bought a house. I was certain that I’d get a job before the school year started. When that didn’t happen, I started to worry. I was, this week, ready to go back to substitute teaching and stoically get through another year deferring the full-time work I’d been seeking for so long. I was pondering supplemental entrepreneurialism. Then I got an interview invitation. I was invited back to do a teaching demonstration. Twenty minutes after I wrapped up a short lesson on predictions and expository writing, I had a job offer.

A year ago, I would have been skeptical if you’d told me what I’d be doing now. Two years ago, in the final throes of my dissertation and before I’d discovered how chilly the job market is, I wouldn’t have believed you at all. I did not spend most of a decade studying music so I could  teach 13 year olds about expository writing. Here’s the thing, though: that time is already spent.

I could cling to that investment and try to fit life to a Procrustean bed. I tried that for a while…and it only made me miserable and angry. I’ve come as close I’ll ever be to being a professor. I try not to spend too much time on regrets. I got to spend a lot of time with my kids. I completed a doctorate. It’s time for the next thing.

It is exciting and it is daunting and everything that a new opportunity should be. It’s not perfect, but it is in so many respects a first job. Those aren’t perfect. This one is Pretty Good. If there’s anything I’ve learned in getting through and out of grad school, it’s that you take Pretty Good when you can get it. Even if it takes two years.

——

Full-time employment will mean some changes here at Walking Ledges. The three posts I’ve managed each week for the last month will drop back down to two. Nicking from Novels will run on Mondays. The other post of the week—on writing, postac, teaching, or maybe even music—will come out Wednesday or Thursday. I am not abandoning my writing. I’m doing NaNo this year and should have my first novel drafted by the end of this weekend. This is still the place to come if you want a first crack at my writing. With fewer blog posts, I plan to post short updates via Facebook  and Twitter . Feel free to follow me there if you’re keen on the latest news of me.

Advertisements

Get a Job, You Schlub!

The other day, a friend of mine posted this article about why people with PhDs don’t just leave the soul-sucking, sub-living wage world of the adjunct. It’s a brief piece, one focused mostly on the short notice adjuncts have when taking jobs and the feelings of obligation to their students (and sometimes institutions) that prevent them from abandoning a course mid-semester. What’s missing from the article is just how hard it is to quit.

Quitting is tough because all through grad school, we get a variation on the Game of Thrones truism: “You win or you die.” As long as you can stake a valid claim to be a player in the game—even if you’re more Karstark than Stark—you’re not dead. Leaving is failing, even if failing in this case means “failing to be exploited by a system that simultaneously turns your hope and your desperation against you.” Who sets out to fail? We wanted to be professors because we had professors we loved, because we love teaching and/or our fields. For an adjunct, quitting academia is like breaking up with a fiance/e who keeps refusing to set a wedding date (or just keeps pushing it back). Even if your friends are all telling you to break it off already, your emotional investment keeps you plugging away, dreaming about flowers and centerpieces and organ preludes.*

The other bit that makes quitting tough? What else are we going to do when we’re out? No matter how many odd jobs we’ve held during or interspersed with our studies, it’s hard to build a foundation for an alternative career while trying to build the foundation for the one you expect to be your lifelong occupation. Even if you smuggle the education section to the bottom of your resume, you’ve still got that “PhD” stuck there, begging for explanation. In my case, where I’ve even gotten to the interview stage, it’s usually the first or second thing to come up. An enormous amount of education, a small amount of relevant experience…this is not a formula for an easy job hunt. Given the choice between months of unemployment—remember that adjuncts typically don’t get unemployment insurance—and a crappy job, most of us will stick with a crappy job.

Academic conferences these days usually feature a panel on “non-academic” employment. I’ve stopped attending these. They’re a useless gesture, tending to highlight a small klatsch of of folks with PhDs who have carved out lives outside the professoriate. Just, you know, not very far outside the professoriate. (The organizers are no doubt limited by the need to draw panelists from within the professional society…or actually pay presenters for their time.) I went to one of these panels a year ago in which half the speakers worked for universities. One of them even still taught courses every other semester or so. (The other half of the panel? Somebody who worked for a foundation and somebody who worked for an early music publisher.) This was the precious outside I was so interested in? Never mind that the panelists had taken spectacularly idiosyncratic paths to reach their current positions, most of which seemed to involve knowing somebody who’d been able to offer them a job at the right time. The tl;dr version of these panels boils down to “Look, here are some people who did it! You can, too! If you want to, you crazy person.” Who, precisely, is that supposed to help? And how?

As for me, I’m still working on carving that idiosyncratic path, hoping that I can either strike up an acquaintance with the right somebody or get my foot in the right door to get out of this application-rejection cycle. Just remember that no matter how stupid it might seem to stay on the Academy’s Skid Row, leaving can feel just as stupid.

*Aside: my partner and I had an extended discussion about wedding music well before we even considered getting married to each other.