My funding ran out this past year. I was supposed to finish my PhD this year. Several classmates received offers from prestigious colleges or post-doctoral fellowships. I felt envious of them and ashamed that it was going to take me an extra year to finish my dissertation.
My department generously offered to extend my funding for one more year, but that meant that I would have to teach again. I had already applied for a loan, which would provide me with just enough money to live on so that I could spend the year working on my dissertation and applying for teaching jobs.
I was tempted to accept the teaching assistantship instead. After all, it was a very expensive decision. If I took the assistantship, I wouldn't have to take that loan and that meant several years I would NOT be in debt. But on the other hand, it meant that it would be like every other year: I would be spending most of my time teaching and struggling to make time for my graduate work. Not to mention I usually worked a second or even a third job in order to avoid credit card debt and loans, unlike most of my classmates (which is why they finished earlier). Either way, it was a decision that would affect me for the next decade at least (in terms of paying off student debt, that is).
I pictured myself grading dozens of papers every week. I imagined my professors shaking their head with disapproval and disappointment over my dissertation, which they had done before. I thought of the students who missed six classes in a row, turned in all their assignments late, and then threw temper tantrums when they didn't get A's. I remembered the e-mails I'd received from students who were irate that I didn't immediately respond (which made ME irate).
Recently I taught a particularly difficult class. Every time I finished explaining something to the students, at least one or two hands would shoot up and the students would ask me to repeat everything I just said; it was clear they weren't listening. Other students showed up late multiple times for appointments and then expected me to set aside even more time outside of my office hours. Several people gave vague excuses about "family emergencies" and expected me to make exceptions for them on almost every single assignment. It made me want to scream and scream and scream, and it made me realize that I needed a break from teaching.
So I turned down the assistantship and took the loan instead. It was a very difficult decision, but for the first time in years I am putting my graduate work first. This is my last chance to redeem myself as a graduate student, and I don't want to ruin it. I HAVE to finish my dissertation this year; I've taken too long already. All these years in graduate school made me feel like I was in limbo; everyone else around me was moving on, getting married, having babies, and climbing the corporate ladder, while I was still a student. I just want to move on with my life and figure out what to do next.
This will be the first year in a long time that I won't be teaching. I'll still have my website job, but I'll spend most of my time at home or at the library, writing my dissertation. I feel sad that I won't be teaching, but to be honest I feel a little relieved, too. It's not just because of that one difficult class. It's because too many of my classes have been like that (though not all of them have been like that, and there have been some genuinely good and bright students).
What about you? What would you have done if you were in my situation? That is, would you have taken the loan, or would you have taken the teaching assistantship?