It’s been almost a dozen years since I got my MA in English Literature. When I graduated, I really didn’t have any desire to pursue a doctoral degree in English, and little has changed since then. (I’ve thought about getting further graduate degrees in other fields, but that’s a topic for another time.) Apart from my feelings about continuing my studies in English, the teaching bug bit me hard before I even taught my first English class, and when I finally got my MA, I knew that I wanted to go into teaching as quickly as I could.
Part of this had to do with the changing dynamics of American higher education, and the race to secure an ever-dwindling number of full-time positions, but again, that discussion would take too long for this blog. Beyond those more pragmatic concerns, I just wanted to teach, and I started applying for teaching positions soon after I graduated, in the hope that I could secure a well-paying job doing something that I truly love.
I wound up settling for part-time work locally, which wasn’t such a bad deal despite the fact that adjunct instructors aren’t paid that well. At the time, I was in a position where I didn’t have to worry about getting a full-time gig right away, and I kind of relished the chance to prove my mettle and merit in a part-time environment. It was still teaching experience, and not only did that help me develop my CV, but it also gave me opportunities to grow and evolve as a teacher, opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d opted to take a full-time position in a different field.
When my father died in 2008, the resulting chaos that my life was thrown into really complicated my professional development. I had an endless list of reasons to want to stay local to the Toledo area at that point, most of which revolved around taking care of Mom. The Toledo area was already hemorrhaging people at that point, though, and the Great Recession sped that process up several times over, and fewer people in the area meant fewer people at the colleges and universities around Toledo, which in turn meant fewer opportunities for local teachers like me to get full-time work. I applied for some full-time openings near Toledo, but in the eleven years I taught around the Toledo area, none of the institutions I taught at ever advertised a single full-time opening for an English instructor. That kind of locked me into part-time teaching work, and while that was a serious drag on my teaching career, I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I’d left Mom alone in Toledo.
That said, the fact that I was only teaching part-time did give me opportunities to pursue other projects, the evidence of which can be seen in the books I’ve published, the videos I’ve made, and the blogs and other content I’ve posted here on the .org. The possibility of a full-time career as a writer was always there for me, and as long as I could keep teaching a class or two every semester then I would’ve been more than okay with that, but despite my best efforts, the full-time writing career just hasn’t happened for me.
After Mom passed away in 2016, continuing to live in Toledo became more and more untenable with each passing day. The support I’d had in my teaching career up to that point was gone, and Toledo’s attempts at resurrecting itself continue to fail, so the possibility of a local full-time position opening up was very low at best. Despite all the bad things I’ve said about Toledo over the years — and I’ll continue to argue that there is far more bad to Toledo than there is good — leaving there last year was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t have a strong desire to get back to Toledo soon, if only for a few days, to visit some of my old haunts there.
If I had to leave Toledo, then at least I had close friends in Colorado who were there to help me deal with wave after wave of life transitions that I’d never had to face before. I got part-time teaching work lined up there, but I also allowed myself, for the first time since I got my MA and both my parents were still alive, to cast a wide net for teaching jobs. I didn’t apply to every single opening that I could find in the United States and Canada , but I certainly applied to a lot of them, hoping that all those years of part-time teaching work had finally led to a CV, and evaluations, and publications and all that fun stuff, that would help me land that full-time teaching position I’d been wanting for so long.
The results of my job hunt were very hit-and-miss; more than once I got to the interview stage and just bombed a question or two. (One instructor on an interview panel couldn’t even hide his disgust with me, rubbing the bridge of his nose for the entire interview.) Getting part-time teaching work in Colorado was no problem — I had the best job interview of my career just looking for part-time work there — but as spring turned to summer, and colleges and universities were getting ready for the new academic year, I figured that I’d be stuck dealing with a full-time teaching load on part-time wages yet again. At least it was a situation that I’d had over a decade to get used to, and even if the locale was new to me, at least the routine would be familiar.
That didn’t happen, though. Less than two weeks ago, I was offered the first full-time teaching position of my life, at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. These past two weeks have been unspeakably unreal, and I’ll probably have more stories to tell later (especially how UPS royally messed me up, which I’ll probably post on my Twitter later this week), but as I sit here drafting this blog on the day before it’s posted, I am sitting in my new apartment in Wisconsin, listening to public radio from Toledo (one of the things I definitely miss about living there), and getting ready for the start of my professional orientation tomorrow morning.
On one level, this is the culmination of over a decade of hard work, fighting to be the best teacher I can possibly be, and even though full-time positions come with even more responsibilities, I’m eager to get started as soon as I wake up Monday. (Okay, I’ll need to shower and have breakfast in there as well.) At the same time, though, this is kind of painful for me. If I’d had to wait thirty or forty years to get a full-time teaching position, but Mom would have been here to celebrate with me when I got that job, I’d have much rather stuck with part-time work until that moment came.
What’s done is done, and by the time I post this, I’ll have already been through most, if not all, of my first day at UW-Platteville. If the craziness of the world around me weren’t enough to make me loopy, then the things I’ve been through these last couple of weeks have certainly done a bang-up job of that. I’m here now, and I have a dream job in a place that I’m quickly growing to love, and while I’m still incredibly lonely without my blood or chosen family here with me, I’m finally in a position now where I can truly help the people I love (as soon as my first pay period rolls around). I have no illusions about this being an easy transition to make these next few months, but at least now I’ve gotten the opportunity to make this transition. Even without family or friends here with me (in the flesh), I have students to help now, and if Mom taught me anything, it’s to give my all for those who put their trust in me, whether my new students or my new employers. It’s bittersweet in a lot of ways, but I finally made it.