This past evening, I attended a gathering of other post-academics living in my area, followed by a dinner with a good friend who’s having a successful career as an a traditional academic. The contrasts in our conversation couldn’t be more clear! On the one hand, the gathered members of the Versatile PhD website were open to ideas such as, that a job search in a new city might not involve adjuncting, whereas my friend couldn’t quite understand why I wouldn’t be eager to teach a subject one hop away from my main area of study, or pick up a class or two to teach here or there.
A couple of weeks ago on this blog, I indicated that I would be writing about the post-ac trinity of transferable skills: teaching, research, and writing. Here are some thoughts about the first of those, teaching, as inspired by these two conversations.
I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly had the conversation with this friend in which I ask her whether or not she’s passionate about teaching. There’s such an assumption that what we do as academics is teach, that I think many questions like this go unasked. The truth be told, I enjoy teaching… but I’m not passionate about it. There’s a lot that I like very much about it: the mentoring, the sharing of ideas, broadening horizons. I experienced some of this in my prior adjunct work, but most of it I experienced while teaching online classes to highly motivated graduate students who were enrolled in master of divinity programs. When students rise to the challenge and put effort and interest out such that I can see it, I find it highly rewarding.
However, the average undergraduate classroom, in my experience, provided fewer of these moments than I would prefer. Furthermore, as an introverted person, I never grew comfortable with the amount of song and dance the students seem to want, or the likely proportion of disengaged to engaged students these classes had. I never became comfortable teaching in areas in which I’m not well-versed (such as economic history!). Add to this the routine of grading papers, and it seems that the negative aspects of teaching can outweigh the good, and that what I enjoy about teaching I would likely find in other ways, as well.
I wonder how my friend would answer the question about what she likes or dislikes about teaching. Would she simply assume it comes as a package with the academic life? I expect that she feels much more passionate about it than I do, and that she, as a more outgoing person than I, and who is also privileged to be able to have those motivated divinity students as her regular classroom participants, no doubt has a better scenario for teaching success than I have found on the adjunct track.
My decision not to seek out adjuncting isn’t borne so much of a dislike of teaching, per se, as a realization that at this point in my life, the costs outweigh the benefits, and rather than put a large amount of effort into perfecting a lesson plan or lecture for the duration of a semester, I need to get set up for doing something else, where the benefits will outweigh the costs.