Monday, September 29, 2014

Dear Search Committee

Dear Search Committee:
    I'm writing to apply for a teaching job at your school in College Town, USA. Even though I've lived in Chicago for several years, I grew up in a small town. So it wouldn't bother me at ALL to move back to a town where people refer to Wal-Mart as "the mall."

While my grad school classmates were winning academic awards, publishing articles in scholarly journals that no one but other scholars read, and presenting their research at conferences that no one but other scholars cared about, I was taking orders from twenty-two-year-old retail supervisors on power trips.

I was shelving books and climbing over people who stretched out on the floor of the store while they read, scattered books all over the place, and never bought anything. At least fifty times a day I resisted the urge to bitch slap people who complained that The Economist wasn't where it was supposed to be or that I wasn't ringing up their purchases quickly enough. I was folding clothes and selling store credit cards to customers who didn't really need them, all so that I could get nothing more than minimum wage and a high-five from my supervisors. I was selling overpriced souvenirs to tourists who would say stuff like, "Wow! Is it this loud in the city ALL the time?"

Working in retail is an exercise in patience; you could say the same thing about teaching. Therefore, I'm much more likely to keep my cool when my students take out their cell phones for the twentieth time during class, rather than pry them out of their hands and fling the phones out the window.

My students will DEFINITELY learn about grammar. I correct people's grammar all the time for FREE, and no, I don't know why I'm not invited to more parties either.

I've taught students at schools all over the city. That means that I know how to teach students at all different levels, AND I know how to respond to all their excuses about why they didn't do the homework or why they missed the last seven classes in a row.

I'm a better teacher than I am a scholar, even though I know that's a MAJOR faux pas in academia. I just never understood why an academic lecture or discussion in an English department sounded more like a discussion that political science majors or economics majors would have. I'm pretty sure that when William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Ernest Hemingway sat down to write, they weren't necessarily obsessing over the political/economic/racial significance of their themes (though I know that some writers did). They just wanted to write good stories that people would read and enjoy, not stories that people would over-analyze in articles and dissertations with hundreds of footnotes.

I know that my lack of scholarly credentials means that I will probably never get a tenure-track job at a prestigious university. I think that's almost as unfair as the fact that university administrators get six-figure salaries, while untenured faculty members don't earn enough money to buy food.

I gave up almost everything else in my life in order to become a professor. I worked harder and suffered more than I ever thought I would.  I wish that mattered in academia, but it doesn't, at least not as much as all those scholarly articles and conference presentations.

Anyway, I hope against hope that I'll hear from you, especially because I REALLY don't want to go back to working in retail.

Neurotic Workaholic

I'm going on the academic job market this year, which is why I haven't been blogging as much lately. That letter is what I wish I could write, but of course, I'm not allowed to say anything like that to search committees. It's the truth, though.

What about you? What do you wish you could say to your employers, prospective or current?


  1. Oh, I love this post. Especially this part:

    My students will DEFINITELY learn about grammar. I correct people's grammar all the time for FREE, and no, I don't know why I'm not invited to more parties either.

    I found myself nodding, laughing, and cringing. I had originally planned to obtain a PhD in History but chose to leave because I'd rather teach than research. Students love the professors who love to teach. I hope you find the right fit for you. And I hope your local retail (where you won't be working) isn't a Walmart. Good luck!

    1. Hi Theresa,
      Thanks! You're definitely right that students prefer professors who love to teach. They told me that they can tell when their other professors care more about research than teaching; it negatively affects the class. I don't ever want it to be like that with my classes.
      I used to think that a big city was any place that had a mall and a bookstore in it, because my hometown didn't have either one.

  2. Best letter ever! And yeah, I worked in retail for nine years so I can relate. Totally.
    Best of luck finding the job you want.

    1. Hi Lynda,
      Thanks! And nine years in retail is very impressive; it is not an easy job. I think it'll take me a while to find a good teaching job; my professors said that it could take years.

  3. Best of luck with the job search!

    I pretty much say what I want to my boss. (I'm my own boss.)

    1. Hi Misha,
      I wish I could be my own boss! That would be cool. And sorry for the late response; it's been pretty chaotic around here lately.

  4. I completely agree about the 'classics' - at the end of the day, they were writing good stories that would appeal to the common person of the time.

    Good luck with the job search :-)

    1. Hi Annalisa,
      I wonder what people like Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway would think of all the scholars over-analyzing their work. I have my doubts that they would approve. Sorry about my late response, by the way!