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SINGLETON DRONES ON ABOUT MATTERS ACADEMIC
A Retired Old Duffer's Blog Spot
I'VE LOOKED AT TEACHING FROM MANY SIDES NOW
(With Apologies to Joni Mitchell)
For twenty-two years I experienced teaching from a student's perspective in Alabama, Texas, New York, and California. That was followed by two years of teaching a course here and a course there at colleges and universities around the Los Angeles area while writing a dissertation. For the next thirty six years I had career as a teacher and scholar in Illinois. For the past two years I have taught a course here and a course there at colleges and universities around the Chicago area as a retired academic.
Thus, at two ends of my teaching career I have had experience with being a part-timer.
Back in the later sixties it was an exciting new venture, a great way to gain experience beyond being a Teaching Assistant, and the extra cash was a nice way to augment the fellowship stipend. I understood that the relationships with Los Angeles State College, Cal Tech, and the University of California Extension division were course by course arrangements. It was a series of academic blind dates. Each one was fun, and each one was finite.
My experience with part-time teaching after retirement end has been less satisfying. The problem is not the students, nor is it diminished interest on my part. The problem was what I had discovered about the joy of teaching in the intervening thirty-six years.
When I was a dissertation writing graduate student in my late 20s, I was self obsessed in only the way that a 20-something dissertation writer can be. Oh, I liked the students, got on well with them, enjoyed teaching them, and had a good time. In addition I discovered that my research and writing benefitted from the intellectual stimulation of the classroom. But ultimately nothing was as important to me as MY project, which I was certain would change the direction of the field of History, and most likely revolutionize scholarship over a wide range of disciplines from Philosophy to Sociology.
It is a testimony to the quality of my teachers that I was able to learn fairly early in my career that neither I nor my projects were nearly as important as my obligation and passion to teach. By my mid-thirties I clearly identified myself as a teacher who was involved in research and writing, rather than a researcher/writer who also taught.
It was inevitable that I would want to continue teaching after retirement. While I have enjoyed the students and the subject matter, there was something missing. That something is the immersion in the ongoing development of students over a prolonged period of time. As teacher, advisor, and chairperson I had the opportunity to track students during their undergraduate and graduate studies and in some cases for years and decades beyond. The great joy of teaching involved the ability to perceive intellectual growth and emotional maturation. The tracking takes place in conversations in the office, in the library, in the cafeteria, in pubs, in social gathering, and in friendships that grow out of the student-teacher relationship and sometimes persist for years.
At this point in my life, I no longer harbor the notion that I am personally all that important or that my projects are crucial to the world of scholarship. Thus, self-absorption does not relieve the ennui resultant from experiencing students only as fleeting encounters (16 weeks go by very rapidly at my age).
This realization leads me to contemplate the current state of the academy where an increasing proportion of courses are taught by part-timers. A few are dissertation writers. Fewer are retirees. The bulk of the part-timers are now academics who have not secured tenure-track appointments. Some of these actually teach a full load. Given the lower pay, whether full or part-time, these folk are often forced to seek such positions at several institutions. Time is now taken up with travel from campus to campus-time that would once have been spent invested in that teaching beyond the classroom that leads to relationships that result in tracking.
Having looked at teaching from many sides, I regret the current trend to think of teaching as something that happens only in 50 minute segments and the realization by bean-counters that higher education can be delivered at a cheaper price by hiring piece-workers rather than to pay a livable wage to a larger mass of tenure-track faculty. These faculty deserve better, as do their students.
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