Quit Lit

I have mixed feelings with academic quit lit. To explain, quit lit is the post or letter about leaving academe. The job market stinks and one could spend their entire academic career trying to piece together courses and live at or close to the poverty level. The quit lit genre feels close to home and that is likely one reason why I am uncomfortable. I spent the better part of my career as a lecturer or sessional. Part of it allowed me to get teaching experience and start my family.

The other part of this is the luxury of having a gainfully employed partner and my absolute unwillingness with moving off the West Coast. I insisted that staying near my family of origin was necessary. But, quit lit also makes me sad, as I see most of the posts or letters penned (er, typed) by women academics. I am also reminded of my research about women in political science and all the 1970-1990 early quit lit letters to the Women’s Caucus in Political Science. Yes, the archives included personal stories about leaving political science.

I also have guilt. I ended up moving up the coast and immigrating to Canada to start over. I co-owned a business, applied for government work and had a few interviews, and on a whim, I applied to teach a class at a local university. I got on the part-time track again, but this time after a few years I moved to the tenure-track. I feel like an academic unicorn. The quit lit stories hit me in a sore spot and my sense of empathy is raw. Last hired, first fired. It’s a rough place to live. I remember. I’m including a photo of San Diego State, where I earned my BA in Women’s Studies, and MA in Liberal Arts and Sciences. I’m in town for a family issue. And, it was at State where I decided that I wanted to be a college professor.

Lessons Learned

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I have had two outlier terms in my teaching career. And, one was in the last year. When things work well, you feel like every damn thing is in order, and you want to pinch yourself. In a similar way, when things begin to go wrong you want to stop and fix them, but they continue to slip out of your reach, it feels like a train wreck. Well, I had a term like this and I’m looking back, so that I can look forward.

I used some new materials, had some strong personalities, and did my best. Well, things did not go as planned, and I need to do a few things. I need to own it. I need to move on. But, right now I am reviewing things. What could I have done to make things better? I know it was not just the books, the students, and me. There are always more factors at play when a class is mediocre. I pride myself on how much I enjoy teaching, as I view it as a form of mentoring and I find teaching fulfilling. And, when things go offside, I feel responsible.

I chose a few new books in order to push my class to read about debates in the field. If I could go back, I would have chosen one new book. The material was provocative enough to cause uncomfortable feelings, debate, and a good measure of animosity between the students, and some directed at me. It is far easier to teach the usual suspects. So, there is a part of me that stubbornly thinks that I would not change the books. I did explain that the material would push the students and that they should feel uncomfortable, but it was not enough. From the papers, I could read that a handful of the students did not like the book or both books. Now, whether or not I had a deep reflection about the content is a different story, but I did hear about the materials vocally. “I want a different book suggestion, since I cannot relate to this one.” I did not give the student another book option.

Course materials are important and I reviewed several books and was really happy with the overall syllabus and assignment. I can reluctantly admit that I would not teach both new books again. One did not work. I won’t name it, as it will do a few things. It will make the students realize that I am talking about their class, and it’s likely better that they not know which of the courses I am referring to in this post! Well, on their own, both books are intellectually engaging or problematic. I do not want to teach perfect books, as that is too darn easy. What else would I have done differently? I think I would have noted that this course had fewer readings and pages of work due to me, than previous terms. From reviewing the evaluations, it is clear that some of the students thought that I was asking them to do too much work. I was not.

The good news here is that I take each class as a learning experience. While teaching feels like it comes easy to me, it is good to know that I will still have an off term. It is good for me to reflect on the course. And, I am not a rock star every term. I have been fortunate to have so many awesome courses and experiences–this year reminded me to be humble! And, the few unhelpful evaluations say more about the student, than they do about me. Thanks for reading the post. I’d appreciate any feedback you have about awesome or crappy terms. We all have them.