Tony Woodlief | Author

Suffer in silence, please

It just never gets old, the article by an academic detailing all the work that academics have to do. Rob Faunce offers the latest installment: We have to plan for our courses weeks in advance. We have papers to grade. Students to counsel. Department meetings to attend.

One thing I’ve learned, in my stints across the academic, corporate, and non-profit worlds, is that the person who goes into excruciating detail about the many pieces of his work is usually the least productive member of the team. Here’s a news flash, Sparky: we’re all working hard.

What’s more, I’ve spent time in three academic departments, and I can tell you that the only time the urgency gets anywhere close to an average day in a profitable company is when someone’s tenure clock is running out.

If you read the linked piece, and you know anything about graduate student life, you’ll likely laugh out loud at this part: “. . . it’s the lifestyle of many urban graduate students, who forgo food, health insurance, sanity, and vacations so that they can dedicate themselves to learning to teach.”

Yes, that’s why the twenty-year old who majored in French lit instead of finance is a dirt-poor adjunct — his love of the game. It’s a pretty self-serving story. And it’s not evidenced in the culture of any academic department of which I’m aware. You just don’t find the halls teeming with young graduate students honing their teaching craft, comparing notes on pedagogy, poring over their teaching evaluations, sitting in on the lectures of accomplished educators to take notes on teaching methods.

Some grad students like teaching, to be sure, but at the top-tier universities you find students focused more on their research, and at lower-tier schools you find them bemoaning the rotten quality of their students. Even among those who like teaching, who really are there to teach, it’s rare to find someone who is continually experimenting and upgrading his teaching toolkit the way, say, a surgeon or architect or kickboxer does.

Part of the problem here is the cloistered nature of the academy. When I was there, I was convinced I worked really, really hard, and many days I did. But my hardest days in grad school were nowhere near as arduous or frequent as my hard days in a company. I didn’t know what stress and hard work and being consumed by projects really was, in other words, until I’d sampled a job with real responsibility outside the academy.

While I disagree with Faunce , I did find this idea laudable:

“We teach for many reasons, but if we are unable to find employment that can support us, we shouldn’t teach. Perhaps if many adjuncts left the industry, withholding the labor supply that keeps demand low, and wages even lower, the goal of a living wage would be achieved by the resolute union reps in perpetual negotiations for the next contract.”

You know we’re making progress on the paltry level of economic education in this country when a lit major accurately applies supply/demand thinking to his profession.

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