Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Beginnings of a Confession

This is my last semester of coursework. I'm supposed to take "comps" at the end of this summer and then begin the daunting dissertation process.

I don't think I will. I don't think I have it in me because I don't care enough.

For the past 15+ years, I always thought that eventually I would end up as Dr. Teacher Lady. It was just a matter of how, when and where. I always figured I would be a college professor. I could live "the life of the mind" and that's what I was meant to do.

And as soon as I started teaching college 3 years ago, I started to hear the distant sounds of my life-long dream falling apart, like chunks of plaster hitting the floor - some big, some small - crashing into smaller and smaller pieces. Now there is nothing left.

I don't mean to make this sound like a melodramatic suicide note, which I suppose it is. Let me begin again:

Jerry Seinfeld once said the best time to have a job is that brief window between the time you are offered the job and before you actually have to start doing it. In my case, that summer was filled with delusional fantasies about what it would finally be like to "live my dream."

At least I know I am not the only delusional person in the world: At every single wedding I have worked, some young drunken bridesmaid or guest comes up to me and says the same thing: "Are you the wedding planner? Do you have a card? Could I, like, talk to you sometime about how you got into this? This is my DREAM job!! I have ALWAYS wanted to be a wedding planner." I don't have much self-restraint, but I have enough to keep myself from saying, "Good gob, why!?!?!" I won't review the gory details since I have this whole series, if you will, but there is nothing glamorous or romantic about being a wedding planner. Nothing. I've swept trash at an amusement part and I've worked at a waste-water treatment plant and being a wedding planner is only slightly less offensive than those two jobs. So I understand that maybe it's a bit immature to think a job is going to be what you think it will be. In the case of wedding planning, I blame J-Lo for all the false perceptions.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Confessing my immaturity about thinking that teaching college was going to be some cross between Educating Rita, Dead Poet's Society and the scene from Kinsey where Kinsey first taught his "marriage course." In actuality, it has been more like Animal House and Dangerous Minds, except I don't look like Michelle Pfeiffer and I don't play the guitar and/or have sex with my students. (Oh, boy. Get ready, Sitemeter. Here come the pervs!)

From the moment I started teaching, I kept thinking, "This is teaching college? This?" And for a while I told myself it was because I was new and I just didn't get certain things. Then I wasn't new anymore and I told myself that Inappropriate Sister and her brother were anomalies and the majority of students weren't like that. And to some degree, that was true. Except the anomalies took up more of my time than everybody else - and dare I mention that they got special and/or better treatment than my students who toed the line? Then I told myself it was just where I taught - a large research university not known for its tough admissions requirements and somewhere else it would be different. Except Mr. J. teaches at a small, private liberal arts college and it's no different. In fact, it may be worse because many of his students are spoiled, wealthy and possess an enormous sense of entitlement. At least mine are just toting around that sense of entitlement. I thought maybe it was just my students who were vaguely delusional about their abilities - i.e., the endless "But I've always thought I was a great writer" or "I studied really hard - how is that my grade?" except then I started reading Rate Your Students on a daily basis and I found it wasn't just me or my students. As an aside, today I find out that RYS will be outed in The Chronicle of Higher Education tomorrow and I am officially pissed. But I guess that is for another post.

In a bizarre turn of events, I picked up a consulting position last week. It has nothing to do with sex or education or sex education. It is a complete and total return to my old life, minus the job stability and medical benefits, but plus a whole lot more cash. I will be working 20 or so hours a week until this semester ends and then . . . I imagine I will pick it up to full time or more.

Mr. J. and I have had endless conversations about this. Me quitting my full-time job and becoming a full-time student has been extremely difficult for our little family. Going down to one real income tested our marriage, our patience, and certainly our ability to be "frugal." Generic tampons, anyone? I'm not completely whining about the situation. I know that few adults are lucky enough to quit their jobs full-time and indulge in the pursuit of their life-long dream. For that, I am truly grateful to Mr. J., to gob, to all my family and friends who constantly said, "atta girl!" and "you can do it!" And I suppose I can do it - I have done it so far - but I don't think I want to anymore.

Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a student telling me that he had been really ill and was not able to study much for the upcoming exam. Would this affect his grade? I e-mailed him back, politely writing that I wasn't sure if he had kept up with the reading, how he felt about his comprehension of the topics, etc., What was I supposed to say? Sure! Anyone with a few brain cells rattling around in their skulls can pass my exam with at least a B+! He got a note from his doctor, showing how he had spent some time in the emergency room which had rendered him incapable of sitting upright and reading a book. I wasn't about to do battle over this one, so I said fine - you'll take the exam when you feel better. Except Monday, the day before the exam I had a voicemail from him. (This must have been really urgent. Students rarely use the phone. Too much of a chance they'll actually have to talk to you.) It went like this: "Teacher Lady, I really need to talk to you. I have class from blah, blah time to blah, blah time. I need you to call me back today between 5:00 p.m. and 5:15p.m. when I will be waiting for your call."

I wasn't furious - believe it or not. I don't think there was anything to be furious about. Mainly, I thought two things: Interesting that he is just "too ill" or has been "too ill" to study, yet the day before he can't take the exam he's running all over campus and is apparently so busy he has exactly 15 free minutes. And then I thought: Oh no, my dear. Even though you might think I work for you because when you pay your tuition, you believe you are paying my salary, you don't tell me to call you within a specific 15 minute window. Because it wasn't a polite request or a suggestion. It was the same tone that a supervisor would use when telling a subordinate she must call the client at this time because that's the only time the client would be available. A very "don't drop the ball here" tone.

This isn't the straw that broke the camel's back - I think that happened a year ago. I also know that I do enjoy teaching - believe it or not. My evals are okay mostly (if not extreme) - both the official university course evals and the Rate Your Professor evals. But I cannot do this every day, every semester for the rest of my life. I will end up meaner and more bitter and more jaded than I already am. And that is not good. I may decide to proceed with comps and work on my dissertation at a snail's pace, part-time while I do my new/old corporate gig. Although I'm not sure I will ever technically "need it" at this point, giving up the life-long dream isn't easy. It's sort of like finally realizing you and a childhood friend no longer have anything in common. And maybe you don't even care for the childhood friend anymore. Suddenly, you realize her husband is a racist and she's picked up his racist tendencies or whatever. But you feel guilty and maybe you want to hang on to that friendship for sentimental reasons. I don't know.

But I do know I am tired of being a human lie detector. I am tired of trying to determine which stories are real and which are fabricated and of the real stories, which ones deserve my understanding and which ones deserve an "Oh, well. Sorry about your luck." Because at the end of the day, my driving philosophy has been to be as fair as possible. Which - I found it - is about as much of a pipe-dream as pain-free plastic surgery.

So there. That's my rambling, make-no-sense, not exactly clear "confession" of sorts. I will keep you posted, if you haven't deemed me a selfish, heinous sell-out and traitor to the educational system. Wait - although I will say this: I sure did miss wearing the Ann Taylor suits! It's awfully nice to be able to wear something cool and know it won't end up covered in chalk dust or dry-erase markers by the end of the day.

If you have deemed me a selfish, heinous sell-out and traitor to the educational system, that's okay too. I get it. Thank you for your readership. Good night and good luck.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not a sell out; don't be so hard on yourself.

I still would like to get my Ph.D. (my life-long dream too), and I believe I will, but as I read the words of more and more college profs, I'm not sure that I will ever want to teach on the college level full time. At least in high school, I can excuse stupid behavior with this logic: "They're still children." But on some days, I have to repeat that A LOT.

April 01, 2007 11:28 AM  
Blogger redzils said...

Teacher Lady, I am glad you are making decisions that feel right for you and Mr. J. I think I would take comps, in your situation, because you will never be more qualified to take them than you are right now, but all that really matters is what you want. Best of luck with it!

April 01, 2007 1:16 PM  
Blogger Denever said...

Every so often, I question the road taken and think wistfully about the road not taken: "Perhaps I should have become an academic. Wouldn't it be lovely to teach and write about the subjects I love for a living?"

But then I realize that as I'm imagining what my daily life would be like, I am actually thinking about my own days in college, which were long enough ago that my fellow students and I ...

- regarded most of our professors with respect, and often affection, and treated them accordingly;

- took responsibility for our actions (i.e., if we got a poor grade, we asked ourselves what we'd done wrong and asked our professors how we could do better, instead of demanding that our grade be raised because that's what we're entitled to and a B- might damage our self-esteem);

- showed up during our professors' office hours when we had questions about the material or the assignments, instead of phoning or emailing them at all hours of the day (okay, it helped that we didn't actually have email back then); and

- viewed an education as something we earned, not a commodity we purchased.

As I say, this was a long, long time ago.

I read a lot of education blogs now and whether they're written by elementary school teacher, high school teachers, or college professors, I have the same recurring thought as I read: "I am so thankful I didn't become a teacher."

Kind of sad, isn't it?

April 01, 2007 4:37 PM  
Blogger Susie said...

Amen, sister. I could have written this in 1997, aka the year I embraced my ABD status.

I passed my comps right around the time I figured out that I did not want to be a college professor after all. It took me another few years to come to terms with the idea that I would never finish.

I am a lot happier now that I'm not teaching undergraduates. And, like you, I actually enjoyed teaching. I could just see where it was all going to end up one of these days. I didn't like the person it was turning me into.

In ten years, I've never regretted my decision!

April 01, 2007 6:58 PM  
Blogger ProfessorDog said...

Turns out the RYS thing is an April Fool's hoax. I wrote them a nice, sympathetic letter and they explained in the reply it was a joke. Personally, I didn't find it funny. The usual procedure, when doing a media April Fool's joke, is to tip your hand in a fairly obvious fashion towards the end of the item--a practice which RYS did not follow. I'm rather annoyed with them.

April 01, 2007 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you gotta go with what feels right... good luck with everything. but your rock. and i secretly hope you don't, b/c from your blog you sound like a great prof!

April 01, 2007 11:04 PM  
Blogger Rate Your Students said...

We love you Teacher Lady, and often visit your fine blog. As longtime profs, we hear your misery, but do want to say that there are such sublime moments in the academy, when the good students and their ideas reign.

We think the best next move for you would be to talk to a number of mentors, people who are where you thought you'd want to be one day. Be open and candid about your concerns and see what they can tell you.

Some nuts on the Internet - not - even us! =can't possibly advise you.

Best wishes!

April 02, 2007 5:37 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Wow. Big change. But it's your life. Your decision. Us nuts on the internet can hardly deem you selfish or a sell-out for your personal choices. You did well to tough it out for so long.

Your blog is hilarious, and I love your stories (especially the series on meeting and dating your husband) but the posts about some of the students were disheartening even for me, and I'm not in your field. As funny as those students are, it must be extremely frustrating to pour your life into your dream and then not be able to shift your focus from students like that.

So good luck with whatever you decide.

April 02, 2007 6:24 AM  
Blogger Kimmy753 said...

I'm so glad it isn't just me. I too came into this Ph.D. teaching thing with gusto..the desire to be Dr. Kimmy one day. Not so much now. The teaching is..ok. The classes are..somewhat interesting, but really..why exactly am I doing this? I'm with you Teacher Lady..I'm with you..

April 02, 2007 7:59 AM  
Blogger Alexandrialeigh said...

This is only slightly on-topic, but I found it interesting nonetheless, according to this story on (,
a new study by Jean Twenge of San Diego State University concluded that college kids today are 30% more narcissistic than they were in 1982. We're apparently raising a nation of egomaniacs. It's not that unbelieveable, though, is it?

April 02, 2007 10:00 AM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Somehow I think this post was in the same spirit as the RYS joke. At least, I hope so. Whenever someone changes lanes and leaves academia I start to wonder why on earth I'm still here.

April 02, 2007 11:36 AM  
Blogger firstcitybook said...

I have to agree with some of the earlier posts regarding this entry because I suspect that you are creating an elaborate April Fool's joke, just as RYS did. You make it seem as though you would be teaching first-year and second-year undergraduates during all of your college career as a professor when it's usually the TA's who get those undergraduates, at least at a research institution (the prospect of you teaching at a community college doesn't seem likely). I have to admit that earning a PhD is largely a matter of running an endurance course and jumping over hurdles. Since you're not in the humanities, you probably have better job prospects than some of us.

April 02, 2007 1:40 PM  
Blogger davidmc said...

i rec'd a PhD @10 yrs ago. i don't regret getting the PhD at all b/c i loved creating my own dissertation, but the whole part-time teaching experience soured me on academia. a few of the turning points were 1) the dept chairman asked me to teach a course on the "Politics of AIDS" b/c he thought i was gay (my specialty was international relations) 2) a student was smoking weed in the classroom before class started 3) at the first class of a course on Middle Eastern politics a student naively asked "where's the middle east?" and finally 4) i gave a student an A b/c she ran a marathon. that pretty much made me realize i cared about as much as they did.

April 03, 2007 3:33 PM  
Blogger kinderscenen_op_15 said...

HA! I have to smile at davidmc's comment, because his #4 is similar to how I passed College Algebra for the 2nd time--I invited the teacher to my piano recital, and since she loved classical music, this somehow enabled me to the lowest possible C- ever invented. But hey! I "passed"!

The fact that you don't want to become bitter at teaching is exactly why I have no desire (even though a goodly number of people seem to think that I'd be good at it) I've taught/filled in for a couple of music courses, and the depths of dumbness just made me want to have a 12-pack of beer by my side. "What?! We have to practice/study/make an effort?! WTF?!!" I don't know if it's a generational thing, but damn--I graduated high school in '93, but at 32 I feel like an educational dinosaur.

April 04, 2007 8:01 PM  

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