Last night, a former student of mine was talking on the Book of Faces about the fact (which she described as shameful) that teachers here in South Carolina don’t get paid a great deal. I mentioned that Mrs. M makes a significant amount more than I do, and that although I’ve been here for 15 years and have reached full rank, I still make less than $50K. My student was shocked, and then asked me why I still work here. I replied:
Well, there are several reasons. 1) The cost of living in [Mondoville] is very low. [Mrs. M] and I can live pretty well on not a lot of money. 2) There are many more folks w/ Ph.D.s out there than there are openings. Supply>>>Demand=low pay for English profs as a category. But even so, [Mondoville College] is one of the lowest-paying schools in the country. 3) My approach to literature isn’t especially fashionable, and even if it were, when you teach 4 classes/semester, it’s hard to find time to do the scholarly work that interests other schools’ hiring committees. (Some folks do manage it, however. More power to them.) 4) As my colleague David Rachels observed this afternoon, there are three categories of faculty hires in the humanities these days: Entry-level, Superstars, and Administrators. I’m overqualified for the first, underqualified for the second, and have no desire for the third. 5) [Mrs. M] has accumulated a significant number of years in SC schools. If we left SC, she’d basically have to start over for retirement and such.
I like what I do, and I like doing it for you guys — the kids who come through [Mondoville]. I think I do some good here that I might not be able to do somewhere else. And when it’s all said and done, I know there are a hell of a lot of folks who never get the chance to do something they love like I do.
Now having said that, if another school in SC (or just across the state line so that [Mrs. M] could still work in SC) were to offer me a gig, we’d have to think about it hard. But I don’t anticipate that happening, so I’ve traded financial rewards for spiritual ones. I wouldn’t recommend it for a lot of people, but as I said, we get by. In the meantime, you could encourage other folks to donate to the college, and then maybe we could get by better. 🙂
In fact, I realize that doing what I do is a luxury of sorts — an opportunity cost that I pay. There are other things I can do that might be more financially remunerative. Fortunately, Mrs. M and I are willing to accept the trade-off. And last night, as I was taking the garbage to the curb, I remembered a poem that struck me as appropriate, so let’s turn to Poetry Corner once again, and to one of my favorites, Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Cliff Klingenhagen had me in to dine
With him one day; and after soup and meat,
And all the other things there were to eat,
Cliff took two glasses and filled one with wine
And one with wormwood. Then, without a sign
For me to choose at all, he took the draught
Of bitterness himself, and lightly quaffed
It off, and said the other one was mine.
And when I asked him what the deuce he meant
By doing that, he only looked at me
And smiled, and said it was a way of his.
And though I know the fellow, I have spent
Long time a-wondering when I shall be
As happy as Cliff Klingenhagen is.