What I’m Aiming For…

I’ve mentioned before that life at a small, teaching college like Mondoville isn’t what most of us are taught to want as we make our way through our M.A. and Ph.D. programs. Our models are typically the heavy-duty research scholars, the gunslingers at the research factories, and the implication is that this is what we should want to be, what we should strive to become.

My Ph.D. program was a little different, not least because Ball State’s origins were as a Normal School/Teacher’s College, but a look at the Chronicle will reveal that many see life outside the Research I (or a very few Selective Liberal Arts Colleges [SLACS]) as being somewhere East of Eden, where the flaming sword of heavy teaching loads will bar the gates of plum jobs forever. (Of course, given that only about 5% of Ph.D.s end up in tenure lines at the level of their doctoral institutions, that makes for a lot of disappointment, even bitterness.)

But as I’ve also noted, I have the kind of job I wanted to have, at a small college in a small town. I get to know the kids, have lunch with them, and on the good days, I occasionally help them see that these long-dead authors are important to what we all do as we muddle through our lives, and that the poems and stories are things that can excite and inspire us. Because I am who I am, that’s probably about the best I could hope for — I was 37 when I got my Ph.D., with a wife and a kid, from a program that’s seen as fair-to-middling, certainly nothing elite. Add my distrust of a lot of trendy avenues of scholarship to all that, and you’ve written yourself a ticket to Mondoville.

But while I’m not destined to be a superstar in the world of higher ed, or even in my little section of it, there are still compensations, and still things for which to strive. And that brings me to a link I found at University Diaries, which tells of Charlie Bassett, an American Lit professor at Colby College. Bassett was dying of cancer, and his former students sent him e-mails of reminiscences, humor, and love that they drew from the classes they had spent with him.

Admittedly, Mondoville isn’t Colby — if we’re even playing in the same league, they’re the Cardinals and we’re the Pirates. But I know that when my time comes, I’d draw much more satisfaction from the love the late Professor Bassett received than I would from any number of monographs. It’s something to aim for, even East of Eden.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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5 Responses to What I’m Aiming For…

  1. J. Otto Pohl says:

    Actually, I was kind of hoping in the three years I spent unemployed after receiving my PhD to land a job at a small cow college in the US midwest or south. Mondoville would have been just dandy. Ironically it now appears I will be working in what is a Research I university in Africa. I do not have any complaints, but it was certainly not what I envisioned for my career until recently.

  2. David WL says:

    To continue your baseball analogy… Some of us just get bounced around in the minor leagues (=”adjunct”)? (Interestingly, my trajectory started about the same as yours: Ph.D. at 38 from second-tier research school, spouse, 2 adopted children.)

    One of my schools is a community college, where I’ve been for 14 years, just opened up a full-time position in my field. I applied–so far not a word, phone call, or email. Candidates with Masters are being considered: imagine how that expands the candidate pool.

  3. profmondo says:

    Believe me, guys — I know how lucky I am to have my gig here in Mondoville, and what a mess it is in the profession. All I can say is to hang in there as long as you can, and find solace in the fact that you are touching your students’ lives. I’ll keep you both in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Jeff says:

    Because of administrative upheavals and curricular overhauls, my 11-year run as an adjunct at an open-admissions night school is likely coming to an end. When I tell people about it, they start to suggest that I consider all sorts of prestigious (and, frankly, unattainable) options, and they’re surprised when I tell them I’m looking to teach at a community college. To some people, it’s nigh-unthinkable that my “dream students” are quasi-autodidactic second-chancers from the suburbs.

    If you’ve found a good fit for yourself at Mondoville, then the heck with “prestige.” In fact, I’d argue that you may help raise the prestige of the school if you enhance its reputation for attentive teaching.

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