Once, a guy on an airplane asked what I do for a living. I said, "I'm a teacher." "What grade?" he replied. When I answered "Er, college," he asked, "Why'd you say you're a teacher, then?" Not the only time that's happened.
I used to teach high school, ninth and tenth grade. When I decided to leave that job and return to higher ed, it never occurred to me that I'd stop being teacher in some people's eyes. I've always seen teaching as my profession, both when I was Mrs. Biniek and now that I'm Dr. Lynch-Biniek. But I've come to understand that many among the general public believes the titles doctor and professor put me in a different class. Once, at a gathering of my husband's family, I overheard a cousin telling his son, "She's a professor," in a hushed, awed tone.
Images of me, sitting in a leather chair, making a thinking face.
Having come from blue collar roots, I get this. Professor is a status marker, an indication that I had the means [and student loans] to get a degree. I have studied and written a lot. But am also remarkably frustrated that elementary and secondary ed teachers, whose job is far, far more difficult than mine, don't get the same respect. My Dad taught high school English for 35 years. My husband teaches high school chemistry and theater (what a combo, I know.) They work more hours and deal with far more challenges, than I do.
Oh, my job is challenging, for sure, But when I briefly taught high school (lasted three years), no one ever learned of my chosen career and said, "Wow, you must be smart." Nope. I got, "Why can't these damn kids read?" or "You must be a glutton for punishment."
Spent this "day off" completing a conference presentation, creating a video for my online class, making flyers for Forum (hey, wanna write for Forum? Let me know!), and tweaking an article proposal. Now I have writer's neck. You know it? That tension and pain that builds when you hunch over a keyboard?
That's not going to cause permanent damage, right?
And while I love my job, I wanted to complain about it. To gripe about all-this-damn-work and how I feel guilty if I even think of taking a day off. I took to the Twitters, ready to do so.
I'm so glad that I follow so many smart, vocal, academic activists, 'cause reading their Twitter streams reminded me that I need to shut the f up when I feel so put upon--put upon by my privilege.
[Do you follow @MirandaMerklein? or @GracieG ? How about @pankisseskafka and @ProfessorEx74 ? You should!]
Yes, all that work that literally translates into a pain in the neck is a privilege.
I have the funding to attend that conference I'm preparing for. Many of my part-time or "visiting" colleagues in the US aren't give the material or intellectual support for professional development.
That online class that eats up more time than my f2f courses? I volunteered for it. I never felt the pressure, that so many professors do, to take any and all course sections available, both to demonstrate dependability to their employers and to make enough money to pay the bills.
My tenured position means I have the time and flexibility and resources to write articles and edit Forum.
I'm not teaching six or seven or eight course sections, making anything besides grading papers an impossibility.
On this "day off" that is really a day of catching up on work for so many US academics, remember that, if you're tenure-track or tenured, the work you do is made possible by a labor system that piles work onto contingent faculty. You can research and attend conferences and write articles because the academic labor system exploits faculty in a system of cheap teaching that privileges a very, very few.
That is worth devoting some of that research and writing to labor issues. Maybe even all of it.