Category Archives: Diatribes

Sunday Evening Ramblings

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I don’t want to feel bitter and angry, but at every turn, I feel betrayed.  Stay in school, they said.  Get an education, they droned.  I did, to the tune of $50,000 of debt.  After 15 years of teaching, I’ve watched that debt mushroom to $70,000 with zero hope of ever paying it off.  It has single-handedly ruined my credit and on a daily basis keeps me mired in terrible financial straits.  In every conceivable way, I would have been better off financially to have skipped college — especially graduate school — altogether and worked at some kind of personal business.  Instead, I listened to those in authority and am ruined financially because of it.  So yeah, I feel angry and bitter.

I work 60 hours a week, at least.  In the fall semester especially, I run ragged from the time I wake up Monday morning until I finish grading sometime Sunday evening.  There is no break.  There is no rest.  There is only teach, rush to the high school, battle the high school nonsense, rush back to campus, teach, grade, repeat.  For my efforts, I’m paid less than the average fast food manager.  Of what I make, I get to keep and live off 51% thanks to child support, insurance, and taxes.  My actual take home wages are well below the poverty line.  So yeah, I’m angry and bitter.

Despite having given everything I am to my profession and having a mountain of feedback that insists I’m really fucking good at my job, every single day I’m made to feel as if I don’t give enough and don’t work hard enough and don’t exhaust myself quite enough.  Just Thursday, I received an email from my boss questioning why I hadn’t submitted faculty feedback on a class that had only started on Monday.  Let me repeat that.  I was questioned for not supplying feedback on students who had only been in class for four days.  They haven’t even submitted a fucking formal essay yet.  That should tell you just about everything you need to know about the current state of education. So yeah, I feel angry and bitter.

I’ve written four pretty good books.  I’ll put my series against 99% of the shit that passes for entertainment these days, especially the drivel on TV, but I can’t make a dent in anyone’s consciousness because I don’t fit tidily into a pretty little marketing category.  And Facebook now makes you pay to show your links.  And Google+ sucks.  And Twitter is madness unleashed.  And I was born in the wrong era.  So yeah, I’m angry and bitter because my two greatest skills and greatest passions, writing and the teaching of writing, have zero worth in this chapter of American history.  I’m a dinosaur, and I’m just about fed up with it all.

Wednesday Night Ramblings

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The zombie apocalypse has already occurred; it just wasn’t how Hollywood had envisioned it.  Instead of decaying corpses feasting on human brains, we have cat memes, sports fanaticism run amok, celebrity worship, and puppet show political “debates.”  Meanwhile, our infrastructure is quite literally crumbling around us and our civil liberties are disappearing almost as fast as species are going extinct, but the masses are so distracted by the bright and shiny locomotive, they refuse to acknowledge the approaching ravine.  It sickens and frustrates me.  I feel like Plato’s prisoner, trying to explain the sun while the cave dwellers measure shadows cast on the wall by firelight.

I write about our imploding educational system, one or two people notice.  Someone posts a video of cat attacking paper, two million views.  Our elected officials refuse to negotiate or compromise for the betterment of our entire economy, people shrug.  A football player goes through a slump, fans go to his home to berate him.  Our priorities are askew.  We deserve the impending corporate shackles soon bound to our ankles.  We deserve this Huxleyan nightmare we’ve built and all the soma that comes with it.  I’ll catalog a few more of the failings of our system, just to fulfill my goal of illustrating to the outside world that some of us fought against it, but I’ve given up hope of enough people in this country noticing or giving a damn.

Education as Business Ramblings

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Two days ago, I asked former students to share their assessments of the value of my educational processes.  The respondents ranged from adults who had been out of school for several years to traditional college students to high school seniors in dual enrollment, and while the sample is relatively small — 24 total comments as of this writing — their feedback consistently states that after taking my classes they have a better understanding of how to convey their thoughts in an organized manner.  In part, I needed to hear some positive feedback because of how beaten down by the system I feel, but more importantly, I wanted to illustrate in a tangible way what I already know in my heart: I know how to teach writing in an effective manner that reaches a broad range of people.

Before I launch into the main point of this post, I want to make one thing exceptionally clear.  Most people who work in administrative and staff roles in education are just as dedicated and hard-working people as teachers.  Many of those I work with I consider friends.  This is not an attack on them personally, and I do recognize that many of the decisions and pressures being placed on educators come from sources higher than those who oversee day-to-day operations.  My umbrage is more with the system, more specifically the focus of the system, which has become more about profitability than academics and long-term sustainability.

I’m making this point to illustrate a fundamental flaw in the path education is currently taking.  Decisions about classroom effectiveness are being decided by high level administrators more interested in the bottom line than in educational quality, and faculty input is dismissed from the discussion.  Please, pay attention to that last point: faculty input is dismissed from the discussion.  As a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Memphis, I had more classroom autonomy than I have today after 15 years as a highly effective educator.  Today, decisions about how my class should operate are being made by people who have never taught one section of composition — and possibly may have never taught any class period — yet they supposedly know more about how to teach writing than I do.  This phenomenon is not limited to English, and no matter how loudly we as teachers scream that our classes are overcrowded, that too much of our time is being taken up with menial tasks, that standardized testing does not work, that homogenized curriculum stifles critical thinking, our pleas are consistently ignored in favor of policies that improve bottom line efficiency.

Here’s one example.  For five years, I personally have begged the college where I currently teach to change the broken system of dual enrollment.  As it functions now, we compress two semesters into one, go to the high school, and teach five days a week, following the high school format.  The purpose of this entry is not to record the multitude of problems that arise from this system; I’ll commit an entire post to that topic.  My purpose here is to state that the five day, in-the-high-school format takes an undo toll on faculty, and despite a plethora of proof to this point, including excessive turnover of faculty charged with this role, both the Sevier County Board of Education and the college refuse to compromise or budge on this issue because of money.  The Board of Education is in effect one of the college’s largest customers, and by outsourcing their teaching to the college, the Board saves thousands of dollars by not having to pay its own faculty.

What angers me is the callousness both the Board of Education and administration show toward faculty on this issue.  We plead with them; they claim they’ll look into it but make no changes.  Faculty quit in frustration; they hire new folks, burn them out, and repeat.  We compile clearly stated, well-reasoned, empirical arguments for why the format doesn’t work; they dismiss our input with a pat on the head.  I cannot fully express in words the anger and frustration I feel at being really good at something, knowing the right way to do it, and having a deeply-rooted passion for doing it well, only to be treated like a disposable commodity over money.  Both the college and the Board of Education prefer to lose good teachers than change the current format due to its financial efficiency.

As I’ve stated, faculty are left feeling as if administration does not listen.  We are merely peons in the process despite being an important component.  Good teachers are experts in our chosen disciplines, and we have a passion for and dedication to sharing our knowledge with others, which is the only reason the whole system hasn’t imploded already.  However, we are being crushed by the demands of this system that wants to speed up the process, maximize efficiency, and focus on the bottom line.  The only way this direction will change is with outrage from the public.  Until civic and business leaders recognize that administrators are weakening the quality of education and producing an inferior product, students incapable for the most part of competing in this new global economy, our voices will continue to fall on deaf ears, and administration will continue to pat each other on the backs for their financial acumen, while educators burn out from the relentless pressures of more, more, more.