Posts Tagged ‘English’

The current economic situation today is shit. Let’s be honest here. Most people, no matter what their education or skills may be, are getting reamed.

About a month ago a friend of mine was fired from her job as a server at a local restaurant because management felt that “she didn’t look very happy.” Um, yeah. She had just worked four doubles, four days in a row, for crap pay and no tips. And did they fire her at the beginning of her fourth day of double hell? Nope. They waited until she had put in 10+ hours and fired her after the restaurant closed for the night.

Another friend, who has had pretty steady work for some time, has been cut down to nine hours. Over a three day period. And inevitably will be cut down to zero hours. She’s already looking for another job. But they’re not easy to find. We don’t live in a big city. In Bomb City, we have a small sector of professionals (that is everything from lawyers to doctors to educators…the city isn’t that big, and people who get those jobs in Bomb City keep them for generations), a larger sector of skilled workers, and a largest sector of service industry workers. Beyond that, prostitution and drug dealing are about your own only hope.

So having a job that pays your bills is a blessing. It is truly something to be thankful for, every morning. And to have a job that leaves some cash at the end of the week (or month) for a pack of cigarettes, a Roasters latte, a bottle of wine, or a bar of chocolate…something for that guilty pleasure hole that must be filled…well, a job like that is pretty much golden in the Black Hole of AMA.

I myself get a lot of questions about my career. As a college professor, not a writer, that is. And most of the questions have to do with the topic most Americans consider top priority when discussing careers: money. I think there are a few misconceptions about salary, benefits, and its relationship to having a career as a university (and community college) English professor; allow me to clear those up, for any aspiring individual who wants to join the noble yet humble field of professing for a living.

(Let me begin with a disclaimer that I will repeat as I conclude this editorial: I love my job and I can’t imagine doing anything else; I get paid to do what I love and no job at any other salary in the world could bring that same type of satisfaction and pure joy. There is something to be said about being one of the lucky small percentage of people who get to spend their lives doing what they are passionate about and getting paid for it. It’s priceless. I encourage you all to chase that same dream).

A typical workweek at a typical job consists of 40 hours. Generally 8-9 hour days with a 1 hour lunch break. The time frames vary: maybe 8 – 5, maybe 3-11. Some people do a 7-7 and take more than two days off that week. But, generally speaking, it’s a 40 hour work week. You work 52 weeks a year, and get a week off, paid vacation.

You might get paid wages. You might get paid salary. If you get paid wages and work less than 40 hours a week, you’re probably considered part time and get no benefits. No health insurance. No retirement plan. If you are lucky enough to get the 40+ hours a week, you probably get some form of insurance, some perks (including the paid vacation mentioned above), and maybe if you’re lucky (unlucky?) to be on wages instead of salary, even overtime when you put in those hours beyond 40. Overtime in Texas is generally time and a half; if you earn $8.00 an hour regular, your overtime hours pay out at $12.00 an hour. Not a bad deal, all in all.

That is the typical, give or take, package of the average full time job in America.

The typical package of the full time college professor is a bit different, but it is uniform in that all full time university/college profs (in Texas, at lower tiered schools, that is) follow the schedule, just like most average full time working Joes and Janes in America follow the above schedule.

Professors teach five classes per semester. They work two semesters a year, so they teach a total of ten classes per academic year. That is roughly nine months. From that nine months and ten classes, they earn their yearly salary. This salary is paid over a period of twelve months; hence that awesome summer paycheck that is earned while sitting at home doing nothing. They also get full benefits, such as medical and dental insurance, 401k retirement plans, etc.

Sometimes a professor teaches six classes per semester. Never more than six, but possibly six. Each class caps at 25 students (22 at the university level), so five-six classes is roughly 120-150 students per semester. This is a pretty full schedule; it’s a thirty hour a week job, easy. Yes, yes, I hear you, forty hour people. I’m not rubbing it in. I’m not complaining. I’m stating the facts.

(For the record, I am convinced that English profs put in more hours simply because logistically, our work load is harder…grading 120-150 four page essays every three weeks takes time…you can’t deny that. It’s not like a scantron quiz that I can load into a machine. But I digress).

This sixth class is called an overload, and profs get overtime pay for it. It’s basically on the same scale of time and a half. So, it’s a pretty sweet deal; like regular overtime, many profs happily take that sixth class for that nice pay bump for four months.

Then, if a prof decides or is lucky enough to be asked, he or she might teach a summer class or two. This is also considered overloads because summer teaching isn’t a part of the nine month contract. So even if a prof only teaches one class that summer, that one class is considered an overload. So that summer pay period of four months is even more bountiful.

All in all, being a full time professor is pretty dandy, don’t you think? I certainly enjoy the gig whenever I can score it.

But what’s it like to be a part time professor? Is the pay ratio or benefits ratio fair and equitable? Meaning, if one works half the time, does one really earn half the salary of the full time professor? Not even close. Part time professing, or what they call adjunct, is one of the hardest careers from which to earn a living.

I know teachers always complain they get paid a pittance. And I think that secondary teachers have every right to complain. I would not deal with the problems they deal with, the red tape, the state, the parents, the TEKS tests, the gazillion hour work weeks, the required training work days in your summer, and probably an entire host of other things I blissfully am ignorant of. They do get paid a pittance for their hard work, and it’s a damn travesty.

But I don’t think adjunct professors are getting a much better deal. Granted, we don’t have to deal with the bullshit, but the work is still present and the pay is still poor. Oftentimes people ask, “Why don’t the institutions where you work hire two or three full time people to cover the 20-30 classes per year that need to be covered instead of hiring 12 part time people to cover the same 20-30 classes?”

Because it’s cheaper. Plain and simple. See my fancy shmancy chart below.

Full Time Professor: earns a salary of $42,000 per year. Full time salary is five classes a semester; ten classes a year. $42,000 / 12 months = $3,500 month before taxes. Insurance, benefits, gym access, an office to work in, and a 401k.

An adjunct professor earns wages of about $1500 per class; this is an average as some pay less. As part time, the most you can teach is four classes, so in a perfect part time situation, four classes at $1500 per class = $12,000 per year. And $12,000 / 12 months = $1000 a month before taxes. No insurance. No benefits. No gym. No office. No nada.

That’s a huge hit. For teaching one class less per semester, I lose $2500 a month in income and all of my insurance and benefits. Try going to the doctor and paying full price on that income.

Naturally, teaching at more than one institution is necessary. I don’t know many grown adults that can live on roughly $875.00 a month after taxes. So inevitably I have to work at other colleges and universities. But surely you can see that making up the difference of what I’m losing cannot be made up in picking up the one extra class that I’m actually not teaching that semester.

Confused? I know, it sounds crazy. But look at the numbers. And if you want to take a look at my tax returns, just ask. For the past five years, I have been teaching approximately 9-10 classes per semester.

Allow me to repeat: 9-10 classes per semester. 18-10 classes per nine months.

That is 180-200 students every four months. 180-200 assignments to grade every four weeks. Not counting the piddly shit in between.

That is double what the normal full time professor works. Do I make double? Am I making approximately $84,000 a year by essentially working two full time teaching jobs spread across three schools?

Um, no. I have worked this schedule for the past five years, and my income has been about $26,500 before taxes.

That’s right; working double time to make less than what I make full time. It boggles my mind. It makes no sense whatsoever. And that’s because I’m still in graduate school, working on a second M.A. in medieval history.

Because obviously being educated is such a huge payoff.

I know I’d be a damn better professor if I could have a single, full time teaching gig at one school. Five classes per semester. A mother does a better job of parenting the fewer children she has, and the same is true of teaching.

So why do I do what I do? Well, I’ll write about that in the next installment. But let this be a gentle lesson to either future teachers or naysayers who think I live an easy, glorious life. Teaching is hard. Writing is harder. Both require me to put my most vulnerable self, my full self out there. No holds barred. Total honesty. Both require me to connect to my audience, to make an impact. And both, at the end of the day, pay next to nothing.

But you know what? Both careers also contain that precarious tension between being an utter failure and an absolute success. Both careers fulfill me and allow me to touch others. But not like a creepy pervert.

On second thought, I’d probably make more money if I had chosen that profession…


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