Teaching in the Teaching University

Introduction and Context

Aloha. My name is Brooke A. Carlson, and I am an Assistant Professor, non-tenure track, at Chaminade University in Honolulu Hawaii. I earned my BA in English and French from Bowdoin College, and my Ph.D. in Early Modern English Literature under the direction of Bruce Smith, at the University of Southern California. I teach at Chaminade University, a native Hawaiian serving institution where the majority of students are women, first ­generation college students, people of color, and members of the lower socioeconomic status. Chaminade is also a Catholic university in the Marianist tradition.

The Teaching Uni

At a teaching university, I teach all the time. I teach face to face, hybrid, and online classes and I’m teaching nearly twelve months out of the year. I even teach internationally in July and August. Some of this is because of where my job landed me, and the cost of living; but it is also the nature of the work I do at a teaching university. My regular teaching load is four classes per semester, and 24 credits an academic year. Frequently, I teach what are called overloads, which means another three or four classes per year, and an additional 9 to 12 credits. One of the disadvantages of the shift into online teaching is that it means always already even more teaching.

In higher education today, I offer a word of caution as we cannot continue to work perpetually at this level without calling into question the quality; for the students, for the faculty, and for the institutions. Teaching all the time means that I am constantly trying to offer feedback, get content prepped, make the meetings I must make, and prepare for the rapidly approaching next semester (and read, research, write). Digitization and the LMS (I am working primarily on Canvas now) mean that regardless of the kind of class I am teaching, I have lots of work to do to manage, wield, and respond to content across today’s digital platforms. An integral part of my teaching is responding to students online, regardless of the kind of class, and being the best human possible there takes time and effort.

In addition to teaching, I serve on committees that are a part of the necessary affairs of the university: facilities, Steering Committee to the Faculty Senate, I co-chaired our core competency assessment committee (in my first four years at Chaminade), and currently, faculty development funding. This is work and it takes time and energy. Some people do not do it, so others do a lot of it. I dig assessment, and am hip to that sort of work, but what matters more for me is finding what I can do, and what I can do well. Try to learn by doing as much as you can in graduate school now. As you begin teaching, you should be offered less service. Take it. Learn to say no, as you go and grow, especially to things that are not healthy for you.

The Job Market

In brief, the hiring process is a lottery. If you are on the market now, or approaching it, you likely know far better than I. I will, thus, be brief. Call it what you may (chance, divinity, happenstance), but the jobs are diminishing, and competition for them is increasing, as are the responsibilities that accompany them. What is not increasing is the pay, nor are the benefits.

Jobs are now appearing outside of the academic year calendar (it used to be a fall post, winter interview, and spring decision). The interviewing is also changing with technology (Zoom/Skype/phone). A year-round job market is both good and bad, and these Skype or phone interviews have some challenges, too. For example, in conference calls, hearing for the interviewee can often be a challenge. On the phone and online, when multiple people speak at the same time, the sound often drops. Long pauses are thus necessary, which can be uncomfortable. When one cannot see the listeners, it can be easy to lose focus or ramble. On the other hand, looking at one or two people on a Skype call can be awkward, almost as awkward as the person who always is looking slightly at the screen and thus not at the others. One might ask for questions in advance, in an effort to alleviate some of these problems. Another method is to repeat the questions being asked, which also buys one some time to think and organize one’s thoughts.

What matters, even in these digital in-between spaces, is how you present yourself. I encourage practice with family and friends around the interview time as it will likely make one feel more comfortable in that setting. Be able to speak in short chunks about clear ways by which you teach. Have one or two examples of student-centered techniques you do regularly in the classroom. Speak to some specific texts and the ways you engage that text. For a job at a teaching university, focus on the teaching. If asked about research and publications, be able to share about the process, ideally from conception to publication, or presentation at a conference. It will be beneficial to write and publish in the scholarship of teaching and learning, so if this is a new field to you, then spend some time in the journals now.

Aside from mad celebration, when you get a job, the job letter, or the offer of the position, is important; a few words on what happens when an offer is made. Negotiation is important and necessary. Job titles correspond to salaries and the trajectory for promotion and one’s future is set out for, or established, in this job letter. When possible, negotiate; ask for and discuss an outline of promotion to be included in that job letter. Initiate this as a five year plan and try to articulate the progression forward from your entry level. When starting outside of a tenure track line, transition to tenure is likely impossible. If such is move is possible, and one must ask this question at some point in the interview process, then it must be included in writing. Word of mouth means no. In negotiation, one might include a shorter cycle to the next promotion (Assistant to Associate in two or three instead of five years, based on time already spent as an Assistant), a teaching load reduction in the first semester or academic year, annual funds for conference presentations, money for annual association fees, or a chunk of money for travel expenses. It may well be that negotiation is not a possibility, which will be important in the decision-making process.

Tenure and promotion are problems in higher ed today. For me, tenure is not a possibility, even though in the interview process, I was assured it was. Non-tenure track lines will always be that. So when you start there, promotion across you entire career will be less than (often in pay and in benefits) those placed onto the tenure track. According to the AAUP and reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2018, 73% of faculty positions are not tenure track. While the more recent trend to hire and keep full-time, non-tenure track faculty is slightly better than continuing to hire adjuncts across the board, it is still exploitative and at the detriment of the faculty, the students, and the very institutions of higher ed. What this means for those of you entering the job market and filling those jobs is that it is time to address these numbers wherever you land. Unless we take action as a group, our working conditions, salaries and benefits will only get worse. The conditions and quality of the university will also continue to suffer; higher ed needs to change, and that change must come from the faculty; it must come from within.

Some Suggestions

To prepare for the market today in English, I encourage you to delve into breadth and to be prepared to engage locally. I urge you to strengthen your writing pedagogy. If you want to use literature to teach writing, start reading more about the theory behind that, and teach as much as you can, however you can. If you want to teach writing through writing, then do the same; do some reading in the theory and practice by teaching as much as you can. Should you land a job today, you will likely be teaching a first year writing class or sequence as a staple. If you find yourself at a teaching university, then most of what you do will be writing.

On the job market, share your job documents as much as you can. You want these several pages of material to be as demonstrative as possible, and for them to be the best representatives of you that you can possibly offer. So the more people who see them and offer some suggestions, the better. Hiding your job materials will only result in greater anxiety and likely less effective materials. Be collegial and collaborative. Be the reader you would like to have for yourself, for someone else. I know a number of folks who are kind enough to set up and share some folders with these docs in Google Drive. Don’t be shy. In so doing, you may well make some colleagues your peers, and possibly even your friends; you will need them later on.

Another helpful move to make now is to start using technology to expand what you do in the classroom. Use platforms like Twitter (now), to both teach, and to expand your network. The tools will change over time, but your people may not end up being close to you, and Twitter might really help you connect with others. Did I mention already: teach as much as you can (face to face, hybrid, online). Amidst all of this, exercise and be healthy. Find good ways to manage stress and anxiety, including a therapist. Semesters move at a different pace and way of being than real world business seasons do. We go from low to high across roughly fifteen weeks, take a break, and then do it again. Then we get a slightly longer break, perhaps, and then the cycle starts all over again. Try crafting some healthy rituals and routines so you can do this for the long haul.

And finally, I love what I do and would be delighted to talk more with you, take a look at job materials, collaborate, and help, in whatever capacity I can. Email me, or reach out on Twitter. Mahalo for reading, for being here, and good luck. We need you!

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Brooke Carlson, PhD teaches in the English Department at Chaminade University. He specializes in early modern English literature, and teaches literature and composition in both brick and mortar and online spaces. Dr. Carlson writes about Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Korea, teaching and technology, and sustainable writing pedagogy. He earned his PhD in English literature from the University of Southern California.

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