Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Difficult Dilemma

I finally found a job, though it's not at the local school that I was hoping for. I'm going to teach full-time at a school in Small Town, Tennessee. Based on the online research I've done so far, the town is a lot like my Midwestern hometown, which I spent eighteen years wanting to escape from.

I wanted to stay in Chicago for at least one more year and teach at one of the local colleges. I also planned to spend more time on my academic research and try to get at least one article published and make one presentation at an academic conference.

But recently a school down South called and offered me a job that I had applied for a while ago. I applied to teach at schools all over the country and was rejected by most of them. Apparently, hundreds of positive evaluations from my students and several years of teaching experience do not matter nearly as much as published articles that might as well be titled "How to Make Yourself Sound Like a Pompous Know-It-All in 500 Words Or Less." But I digress.

I had to make a decision about the job right away, because the fall term is starting next month. I wanted to hold out for the local school, but they couldn't give me an answer yet. So what was I supposed to do: accept a job in an unfamiliar town halfway across the country or hold out for a job that I wanted but might not even get?

My professors were unanimous in their advice. "Go to Tennessee," they said. "It's time for you to move on. Teaching there for a year or two will show other schools that you have experience teaching at urban schools and rural ones and that you're willing to move. This will make it easier for you to get another job."

My parents, of course, were thrilled. They've been pressuring me to leave Chicago for years. They know that I love it here, but that doesn't matter because it's not the place that they want me to live in. Small Town, Tennessee is within driving distance of their home (though not in the same state), which means that they can see me more often. One phone call from them is enough to stress me out for the rest of the day, so I'm not happy at the prospect of moving closer to them.

They've also informed me that they will come with me to Small Town to "help" me move, which means dictating what kind of car I should get, what kind of furniture I should buy (even though I'm paying for this), which stores I should go to, etc., etc. I told them that I can handle it myself, but they're coming anyway. But I will NOT let them control all (or ANY) of the decisions I make.

I took a walk down Michigan Avenue recently. There was a guy marching up and down the sidewalk carrying a sign that said, "REPENT SINNERS" and yelling that everyone was going to hell. I nearly bumped into someone playing a ukulele and singing "Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga. Another guy looked at my chest and said, "Hi, boobies."

Sirens blared, horns honked, and people called out to each other across the street in several different languages. I looked at everything and thought, This is home. This is the one place in the world that I've always loved. This is where I want to be. 

But I don't have a choice. I owe thousands of dollars in student loans. I only have enough money to pay my rent through August. I knew that I would have to leave Chicago eventually, because with a Ph.D. in English, I have to go where the work is. I just didn't think I would have to leave so soon.

What about you? Have you ever made a difficult choice regarding your employment? Have you ever made a cross-country move?

Side note: I might not be able to respond to everyone's comments until later this week, due to issues with moving, but I promise I'll respond!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fake Reviews

When I first started teaching, I found out that there were a few "rate your professor" websites, and I was on them. I found a few good reviews that were written about me, where students praised me for my patience with them; some of the positive reviews indicated that the students planned to take another class with me.

I noticed one weird trend. On one of the websites, students could also rate their professors' looks with a chili pepper, to indicate that they thought their professors were "hot." I, alas, did not get any chili peppers. Maybe if I bothered to wear makeup or brush my hair most mornings (I usually go for the mad scientist look), I would have gotten at least one chili pepper.

There were, however, several bad reviews that were written about me. That's to be expected, because there are many bad reviews about a lot of professors on those sites. Undergrads who are disgruntled about not getting the grades they wanted can write the nastiest stuff they can come up with (and many of them do) and post it online for everyone to see.

The problem was that some of the stuff that was written about me wasn't true. One student falsely claimed that I was never available for office hours. Other students lied that I graded their papers unfairly and played favorites with certain students.

At the end of each term, the students fill out course evaluations about the classes I teach and about my teaching, which are read by my bosses. I keep their comments in mind and make changes to my syllabus or teaching style. Almost all my reviews from the past several years have been positive.

The online reviews, however, are another story. In both cases, the evaluations are anonymous, but I guess students feel freer to be more candid online. It bothers me that students can post incredibly hostile insults about me that aren't even true, and I can't do anything about it.

The moderators of the sites are undergraduates (or former undergrads) who claim that they're "helping" students decide which professors to avoid and which ones they should take classes with. I think they're helping students who are upset over their grades (or anything else) slander their professors. I also think those moderators know NOTHING about teaching, and they wouldn't survive a week on the other side of the desk.

Several of the schools that I applied to for teaching jobs requested copies of my course evaluations, which I sent. But I heard that some search committees also look at those websites, which worried me.

For a moment, I was tempted to post a few more positive reviews about myself. The thing about those sites is that I can pretend to be a student and post whatever I want. I could have written stuff like, "She's the best teacher EVER! People walk into her classrooms saying, "Please, teach me."

But I didn't. Once, a cashier forgot to charge me for an item that I bought. I brought the item back and paid for it, surprising the cashier. If I can't even lie about a two dollar purchase, there's no way I can lie about my work. I hope that the positive evaluations I sent speak for themselves, and that I won't end up having some kind of breakdown where I reenact the end of every Lifetime movie and start shrieking, "If I can't have this job, NO ONE CAN!" while the members of the search committee run in terror.

I have heard, though, of authors who posted fake positive reviews of their work on Amazon and other websites in attempts to get people to buy their books. I can't help wondering what makes them think that's okay, and if anyone has ever been fooled by those reviews.

What about you? What do you think of those rate your professor websites? Have you ever heard of authors who posted fake reviews?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Back into the Writing Groove

When I was finishing my dissertation, I gave up writing almost everything else, including the novels and short stories I was working on. I didn't blog as often as before. Even when I went to coffeehouses, I didn't write in my journal like I used to; I immersed myself in cups of coffee and heavy library books.

Now that I'm finally done with my dissertation (insert joyful music from gospel choir here), it's hard to get back into the writing groove, which is one of the reasons I haven't been blogging as much. I go to coffeehouses to write, and instead find myself checking Twitter several times an hour, where I see Tweets like #CancelYourEngagementZayn, which was trending on Twitter yesterday (apparently some One Direction fans are irate that one of the members is engaged and think that acting like obsessive stalkers will make him break off his engagement and marry one of them, which would only happen on the bizarro planet that they live on). Other times I see Tweets from people ranting about whatever it is they're "offended" by at the moment (Tweets like that make me want to leave Twitter altogether).

Instead of writing, I often find myself making paper airplanes that I try very hard not to throw at the guys who blast videos from their cell phones. Or I roll my eyes at the hipsters with their ginormous headphones.

At home, I sit down at my laptop to write, and instead I check my e-mail to find yet another rejection letter from yet another school. It's been disheartening to be rejected by so many schools, though I know that for every one full-time, untenured faculty position available, there are at least a hundred (or two hundred) applicants vying for it. I feel discouraged, because I spent too many years in grad school. I lost almost everything else that mattered (my twenties, most of my friends, potential boyfriends), and now I feel like it was all for nothing.

There is one school here in Illinois that said they MIGHT hire me, but only if the budget allows it; they can't let me know anything for sure until the end of the month. In the meantime, instead of writing, I've been applying for part-time faculty jobs (the low pay worries me, because then I won't be able to pay my rent AND my minimum student loan payment each month). I've also been considering jobs in retail again (insert primal screaming here) if I can't find any adjunct jobs.

When my professors turned to me after I successfully defended my dissertation and said, "Congratulations, Doctor!" I didn't even feel relieved as I thought I would. I felt worried because I didn't have a job lined up yet.

So needless to say, I've been preoccupied. If I knew what was going to happen this fall, I could relax. But since I don't yet, I can't stop worrying.

At the same time, I still want to write. But it's been so long since I've worked on my fiction and creative nonfiction that it's hard to get back to writing it.

What about you? Have you ever taken a long break from writing? What kinds of things did you do to get back into the writing groove?