By Deb Baer Becker
I applied for an adjunct teaching position at a local college, a job the Huffington Post describes as “terrible” and “degrading.” They cite low pay,
no job security, and snarky tenured faculty.
Who would pursue such misery?
I would happily pursue the misery of an adjunct teaching position because I can visualize my future classroom, a radiant community of eager students. Their bright faces beam at me while we actively work the day’s lesson, all of us feeling challenged and inspired. By the end of each class, we see our cranky old world in a whole new way. Also, I want to build my teaching resume, and there’s much to learn. It’s a fair trade.
I tackled the online application for teaching jobs, a process which results in a summary that makes me look like I hadn’t left the house for twenty years. I haven’t had full-time employment since Clinton was chasing White House interns. There’s no drop down menu for, say, “number of beautiful and intelligent children successfully mothered to adulthood,” or a way to document the year I spent fighting breast cancer.
Still, I completed the thing, and hit “submit” even though I would have felt less vulnerable had I walked down my street naked.
Then my sweet little doggy Scout got sick, diagnosed with an immune disease that made him severely anemic. No cure. Much of my days revolved around Scout’s care. I decided that the best thing I could do is to forget about teaching, stay home and write while he rests.
That’s when I got an invitation to interview at a campus close to home. It directed me where to go, what to bring—transcripts, my Social Security card (that I couldn’t find)—and an assignment: Teach a five minute lesson on how to write an essay.
Now, let me just say that I’ve been writing essays, personal essays, for about ten years now, and I still don’t get how they turn out. I start with a half-baked idea that I’m not sure will work. My essay writing process includes: swearing, lots of bitching—no one is safe from my bitching—despair and crying and Kleenex. And wine. Eventually, I cannot stand myself so I stay at the desk and write until the idea gets a will of its own, which probably looks a lot like an exorcism. When or I should say IF the idea is viable, the Universe arrives and turns the volume down on my perfectionism and negative thoughts and attention deficit disorder. Then the essay becomes something kind of neat. And if that ain’t the very definition of bat-shit crazy, I don’t know what is. So how am I going to teach that in five minutes?
On the morning of the interview, I gathered my notes and a handout I’d created, “The Nervous Wreck’s Guide to Essay Writing,” tucked my sick little Scouty-Pants into his bed in the laundry room, and headed to the college. I was an hour ahead of schedule. When I reached the designated classroom, I passed the extra time practicing my presentation. I alternated with Yoga breathing to calm my hysteria, and waited for 10:30 to arrive.
By 10:45, I began to check and re-check of my invitation’s day, place, time convulsively, like I’d had severe OCD. I texted my daughter, Should I leave? She texted, HELL, YES! (middle finger emoji).
By eleven-thirty, I packed up, felt teary, and a sense of relief, too, and turned to walk away when this short guy, let’s call him Ernie, appears in the hall, walking fast, one hand smoothing over his bald head, the other tugging at his pants. He says, “Are you Debra?”
Do I really want to be Debra right now? I wondered.
Instead I said, “Yes. I’ve been waiting here for what was a 10:30 interview with a department chair.”
Ernie says, “Yeah, um, that’s me. I forgot. Um, sorry,” and he looked up at me sideways, half-smile. He had a red nose, big and round, like a Muppet.
Ernie told me to follow him to the conference room, and said, “I’m waiting for my buddy, Bert, ‘cause we always do this stuff together, me and Bert. When Bert gets here, we’ll get started.”
So I was left alone to wait for Bert and Ernie. I worried about Scout. Again, I considered leaving. I guess I wanted to be a teacher more than I wanted to blow off these two academics.
Bert finally showed at noon, a much taller version of Ernie, and also balding. Is there a Rogaine shortage? Bert apologized for being late, and suggested we head to the classroom right away to get this over with.
The interview was a Gong Show. I handed out my essay tips, and led them through a basic thesis writing exercise. Ernie rolled his eyes. Bert kept tipping his chair back, and looking at the clock. Ernie chuckled when I mentioned Emily Dickinson, and then he interrupted my presentation, said, “I don’t really read anything unless I have to. And no one lectures anymore.”
Bert agreed and said, “Sorry to cut you short, but we have another meeting we have to get to,” which I imagined involved a beer or three.
On the way out of the classroom, I handed Bert my college transcripts, but he pushed them back towards me and said, “Why don’t you just hang on to those for another time, huh?” Ernie chuckled and added, “Yeah, watch for an email from me.”
We parted company at the elevators, where I watched them turn and walk away, talking animatedly. The elevator door opened and I stepped on with another woman, a teacher. I sighed as the doors closed.
She said, “Interview?”
I said, “Yes. It didn’t go well.”
She talked about how much she loves teaching her students. I told her about my writing. She confessed a desire to write fiction short stories. When we got to her floor she said, “Don’t give up. You’ll make a great teacher.”
Epilogue: This is the first time in almost ten years I’ve written my column without my little Scout by my side. He was my writing partner, my guardian angel in a doggy suit. Adopt. Don’t shop.