To teach or not to teach…

While pursuing your doctoral studies, you may have had the opportunity to work a few hours each semester as a teaching or research assistant. These are difficult jobs to get and they often don’t pay enough to be your sole source of income. You attend classes, study, prepare for assignments, write papers, prepare for exams and all while you are attending an extra class that you are TA’ing, marking tons of assignments and papers, tutoring or mentoring students, and sometimes lecturing in said class and hopefully finding some time to work at your part time job to support your cost of living. Time management is your best friend…embrace it…you don’t have time for other friends.

If you had an opportunity to sub-teach as a TA, you may also have had the opportunity to teach as a sessional instructor for one term. Hopefully this is during your research phase, as preparing twelve weeks of lecture material, assignments, marking, exams, marking some more, and meeting with students takes up a lot of time. Staying focused on your research becomes very difficult. Examine this scenario very closely…it is a small slice of what is expected of a full time professor. Getting a teaching position as a sessional is very tough, but getting a tenure track position is near impossible.

I’ve been lucky enough to have friends that are professors in universities and colleges, and while I went through the above exercises, I observed their daily work lives as well. What I saw were often burnt out faculty, struggling to keep up with demands placed on them to maintain tenure. Imagine teaching three courses, prepping lectures for all three and keeping them up to date each term; preparing new assignments every term to again stay current, and to remove options for possible cheating; prepare exams with the same rigour; meet with students from your classes to help them as needed; supervise 3-8 grad students, with all the marking and mentoring that goes with this task; mark assignments and exams; keep up with the research in your field and prepare to publish something annually; participate in departmental committees, and university/college committees….whew! Just tires me out listing them all. Its called the tenure race, and its a constant challenge to insure the longevity of your teaching position. There are no guarantees that if you somehow manage to accomplish all of this for five consecutive years, that your annual review will result in a tenured position. I’ve know instructors that have survived the five years, only to be told that the program was changing and they needed to find another job someplace else, or, they just didn’t get high enough scores in the ever-flaky student evaluations, or, they didn’t serve on enough committees, or…or…or.

Imagine giving of yourself to a university for five years, all of this, for a very small paycheque, and then told you were no longer wanted/needed. Yes, I said small pay cheque! The administrative assistant to the dean will often make more money than you!!

So…to teach or not to teach…that is the question. If you’re inclined to weigh in on this question I’d love to hear from you.