Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Remembering the important part

After I posted last night about feeling as if academia is sucking my passionate and political engagements out of me, I taught my last class in my 100-level course today. The Intro course. The end of the year. And I remembered that I need to focus on this part more, because it engages both my passion and my politics.

Two students baked cupcakes for the class, unexpectedly - fresh strawberry cupcakes with little course-related images on them in icing. The class and I had a fairly loose discussion about what the course has done for them, and they basically talked about it changing the way they think and even the way they live. Some hung around afterward, not wanting to part. They said they didn't want to leave, that they were sad it was over and wished it could go on all summer. Geez. That's important, to put it mildly. That I'm involved in producing that kind of passion and engagement in others. That reinvigorates me. (Even if it won't get me tenure.)

8 comments:

Psychgrad said...

I think this is a really important point. Maybe being passionate and political is not about being in the trenches with banners and signs, fighting for certain rights (I know this may be an exaggeration). But, if you can enable other people to understand the perspectives out there to make an informed decision for themselves, rather than an uninformed one or none at all, then you may be doing more for your passion than you would outside of academia.

I was thinking to make the point last comment that these "rebel professors" who lose or do not gain tenure are usually well renowned educators.

Pantagruelle said...

I'm not sure what the exact stats are, but I think that once one actually gets a tenure-track job, something like 95% of people get tenure. It's not getting tenure that's the hard part--it's getting a damn job in the first place.

The point being, you have a job, yes it's in a sucky city (and believe me, I feel for you on that front because I've been crying non-stop since getting my job and contemplating moving there), but if you just keep doing what you are doing--teaching in such a way that your students love you, working on projects that do make you feel passionate about what you do, like the volume rather than the monograph--then you will be happier, and tenure will come when it comes. Don't let tenure worries stress you out too much. Try to enjoy the good parts of the job, like today with the cupcakes and hanger-ons, and let tenure take care of itself. You're smart, you're productive, you'll get tenure, and you don't need to let the quest for it consume the next five years of your life.

Belle said...

Are you kidding? How, with those kinds of responses, can you not get addicted to teaching? I used to be a lot more politically active and engaged in the outside world. Now I do it in a different (and more subversive) way. I teach students to think critically and question everything. And believe me, that invigorates me.

And I got tenure! And promoted! And Pantagruelle is right; most people in t-t jobs get tenure. We had a very controversial minister/rhetoric prof draw lots of fire, and s/he worried about pissing off the PTB. Did it often. Worried about getting tenure. Got it. S/he was the only one who was surprised. Hang in there.

I do envy you that time; you've changed lives!

Hilaire said...

Psychgrad - Yes, I do see - and have always seen - teaching as political work. That gets forgotten, in the anxiety I feel at this particular university, about tenure.

Pan - This partic. university...that's it, that's where a lot of my over-anxious tendency with this stuff comes from. There are things that are very particular to the very strange culture of this university that make tenure stuff here an incredibly scary thing. Nobody reassures you about it - administrators talk about it as if it's a potential disaster. And these are the people who are supposed to be supporting you in it!! This is what is contributing to my extreme paranoia about this - I have heard some truly shocking rhetoric used at this institution and every time I'm at a meeting that has anything to do with tenure and promotion, I leave on the verge of tears. Leave from a room that is pulsing with hysterical, paranoid energy!! Ugh!! Hopefully I won't have to go up for tenure here...I can do it in a less insane environment!!

Belle - Oh, I have been addicted to teaching, alright. So addicted, last year, that I had to made a conscious decision to pull back for my own sanity...and imposed some "measures" to distance me just a little from it. It was so intensely addictive that it was actually unhealthy, I think. So now I'm searching for balance...

JustMe said...

that is the such a wonderful feeling, knowing that you inspired!

What Now? said...

Hilaire, I'm chiming in late to this conversation. It's been fascinating to read your recent posts and the comments on them.

I know I have a particular perspective on this because of my own academic history, but I do worry about dividing one's life into pre- and post-tenure, and delaying passion and gratifying work for the post-tenure part. I worry that we get so into the habit of delaying our labors of love and repressing passion that, by the time tenure comes along, we're completely out of the habit of living fully. Or at least I think that was the direction I was heading in.

Hilaire said...

WN - This is *precisely* what I worry about. Dividing my life up like this. I think this summer will be a good test for me...and how I feel when I come back to teaching and Scary City in the fall...if the anxiety doesn't diminish, ever, I need to seriously reconsider what I'm doing...

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