This year I have applied for full-time teaching jobs at eighty schools all over the country. So far, I have been rejected by thirty of them.
It's discouraging, to say the least, to open my mail and find yet another rejection letter. It also makes me scared about what's going to happen in the future. I have just enough money to pay my basic expenses through August. But what will I do after that?
I started working when I was sixteen, as a cashier in a grocery store in the small Midwestern town I grew up in, where I routinely had to tell customers to put shirts on so they wouldn't be made to leave the store (and I tried not to stare at their farmer tans as I told them). I've had a variety of jobs, everything from stuffing envelopes, to resisting the urge to strangle rude customers with the clothes I was trying to sell them, to breaking up fights among troubled high school students, to resisting the urge to fling undergraduates' cell phones out the window.
I've never been unemployed, though I have been underemployed, underpaid, and overworked. When I couldn't find a full-time teaching job after I got a master's degree, I started working as a part-time adjunct instructor at various schools. Adjunct work is difficult because the pay is low; there is no health insurance or benefits; you're hired on an as-needed basis, so you could have a full course load one term and no classes the next. That's why I also worked in retail, and I took on a part-time job for a website.
Despite the fact that I'm a workaholic, I never liked working multiple jobs. I was tired all the time. I was screamed at and disrespected by some of my students, my customers, and my supervisors. I accepted it because I had few other options, though I often cried privately when it got to be too much. The harder I worked, the more my personality hardened: I went from being cheerful, friendly, and optimistic to stressed, antisocial, and cynical.
Now I'm close to finishing my dissertation, and I'll be defending it in about a month. If it doesn't get approved, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away. If it does get approved, I'll finally have my PhD. But the question is, what happens next?
I've applied to large research universities, small four-year colleges, and community colleges. I've applied to posh boarding schools, because they occasionally hire PhDs. I've even applied for tutoring jobs at university writing centers, even though they pay tens of thousands dollars less than teaching jobs do. But with the exception of one school, who was interested in hiring me until they found someone with more impressive credentials, I have no other job leads.
It bothers me that even though I am a good teacher with hundreds
of positive evaluations from my students, someone with a longer list of
academic publications and awards is much more likely to get the job.
What most of these search committees are looking for is someone who has
excelled as a scholar, while his or her teaching record is much less
important. I think it should be the other way around, but I'm in the
minority on that issue.
The chair of the English department at my school told the PhD candidates that it was normal not to find a tenure-track position within the first year and that the search could take at least two more years. Even after that, we still might not find one. But in the meantime, I still have bills to pay, and I can't even get a job as an untenured, full-time lecturer at a community college in the Middle of Nowhere, USA.
It's depressing and scary to think that I could be rejected by fifty more schools. After I get my PhD, it'll (hopefully) be easier to find a job. But in the meantime, I may have to go back to work in retail (if I do, you'll hear me screeching like a howler monkey from thousands of miles away), continue working as an adjunct, and increase the hours at my website job.
Even if I worked three jobs again, I wouldn't necessarily have enough money to live on. As an experienced salesgirl, I would get paid more. But I would get fewer hours, because it's cheaper for the employers to give hours to the ones with less experience. Adjuncts make little more (or in some cases, less) than retail workers. For example, I was once offered a teaching job that would have paid less than a hundred dollars a week (before taxes). I could get health insurance as a salesgirl (but not as an adjunct instructor), but it's very basic insurance, which wouldn't cover the specialized treatment I need for my neurological disorder.
But I will do what I have to do. I will NOT ask my parents for money, for reasons that are better left unwritten. I've heard of other untenured faculty who had to live on food stamps, but hopefully I won't have to do that. I may, however, have to sign up for Medicaid.
Right now I'm still waiting to hear back from those other schools that haven't rejected me. A lot of them just posted their ads in March and April and won't start reviewing applications until May, so I won't hear anything until June at the earliest. The uncertainty is the worst. I just want to know, one way or another, what's going to happen, so that I can figure out where to go from there.
What about you? Have you ever had difficulty finding a job in your desired field?
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