Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Master's Degrees, The Redheaded Stepchild of Degrees

Increasingly, as I search for a job, trying to find one that remotely has to do with my chosen field of study, I am either over or under-qualified, or I don't have the right kind of experience.  

Of course, I can (and will, if it comes down to it) teach, but assistant lecturers at universities aren't intended to be full-time positions.  They are intended as part-time supplements to a full-time income: they pay between $700-900/credit hour, and at most places you can't teach more than eight credit hours, because nine or more is considered full time  (because of the Affordable Care Act), and the universities don't want to pay you benefits.

Also, there are no two credit hour classes (at least on the English side of things), so the most you can teach is six credit hours, and, if you are lucky enough to get one of the few positions at the Writing Lab, you might be able to tutor for the equivalent to those last two credit hours.  

If you want to attempt to make it work, you can try to find another part time position at another university, but it still isn't a lot of income, and, again, there are NO BENEFITS.  So, if you want to stay in academia, because you enjoy teaching and having a flexible schedule, you have to find ways to supplement your income, or just be poor.  Either that, or go to school for another four to five years on top of the six to seven years you have already gone to school, and maybe, maybe, get a tenure-track position, if you are lucky (since there are many people with PhD.s that can only find part-time work, as well).

But if I like teaching so much, you ask, why don't I just go to school for another year and take the tests and become licensed to teach high school?  Two words: standardized testing.  My style of teaching doesn't work well within the current system, since I don't look at everyone has having the same skill or ability levels, and I don't believe that it's fair to expect everyone to think the same way.  You can teach people and hold them to certain standards without putting them through an arbitrary, stressful series of tests.  With the amount of stress that testing puts on students, and that the testing is administered by for profit corporations, the tests are not accomplishing the goals they are setting out to accomplish.  Education needs to be put in the hands of educators and taken out the hands of bureaucrats, and based on studies on what works best for students, rather than being controlled by politicians who have a financial stake in making sure the testing is continued.

My only other option, if I want to teach, and make a living doing it, is to get an MFA--and I admit, this option is tempting.  I am just burned out with school right now, and need to let my brain heal before I commit to another year or two.  Not to mention, there is no guarantee that I will be able to find a full-time position with a MA and an MFA, either.  In fact, with the popularity of MFA programs, there are probably even fewer of these positions.

So, what is the material value of getting a master's degree in English?  I am not sure yet.  I would like to think, if I do my research, if I apply to every open position across the country that I am remotely qualified for, that has anything to do with writing/editing/research, I will eventually find something that is the right fit for me.  It's too bad though, because I do genuinely like teaching, and it would be great to teach when I don't have the stress of my own classes weighing down on me--but I am tired of being poor. 

I have never had much money, and it really has nothing to do with having stuff, as much as it has to do with feeling some level of security.  But maybe that is a pipe dream.  It seems like no matter how hard I work, what length I go to improve my quality of life, I am met with more barriers.  The closer I think I am to accomplishing my goals, the further away I get.

Growing up, my generation was taught that what we had to do was go to college, and if we did, we would be able to get a job and find happiness.  But that was all rhetoric, a sales pitch, a clever ruse designed by people with business degrees to take advantage of poor people and the federal student loan system so they can sit pretty in administrative positions and earn six-figure salaries.

Clearly, without a doubt, the system is broken, since, if I didn't go to school, I would still be out of luck.  I could have studied something else, perhaps, but just because the humanities have been devalued, doesn't mean that they don't have value, since studying the humanities helps make people better people.  Empathy isn't inherent, necessarily, or, if it is, it at least needs refined.

That's what the humanities do.  If you don't think people, in general, could use more empathy, just read the comments section of any article on any website, or watch the news.  If people considered other peoples' perspectives more often, the world would be a better place.  But greed and self-interest rule the day, benefiting some and destroying many others.

Who is going to fix the broken system?  Not the people who benefit from the way that it is now.  Why are we so complacent?  Why do we let people who clearly only have their own interests at heart make decisions that affect others?

Maybe my degrees/skill sets don't have material value, but I am going to put them to good use.  While I certainly won't be able to do anything on my own, without any help, I am certainly not alone in being marginalized.  We, who have sought education, who have worked within the system to get ahead, but have met with increasing resistance as we attempt to move forward, need to work together and make the system work for us, or break it once and for all, and start over.

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