03 April 2009

Will not teach for cash

Time for a new post. . . .

This morning, I received a startling email. I subscribe to a Creative Writing listserv that announces writing contests, calls for submissions, and teaching jobs. This particular digest included an ad for a creative writing instructor at Centenary College.  The ad goes like this:

"Instructor wanted for 2-credit poetry writing course for the fall semester (September through December, 2009) at, Hackettstown, NJ. MFA required. The course meets once a week for approximately two hours. Salary $900. Centenary College is in the process of developing a creative writing minor. We anticipate ongoing teaching opportunities."

As quickly as my eyes widened at the "poetry instructor wanted: Centenary College" line, they also calmed down because I know that there are two Centenary Colleges in these United States (the "Jewel of the South" where I teach and the other one in New Jersey).  But still.

So I sent this to my husband, who did the following math (which, notably, does not even account for taxes):

Let's see, 18 weeks x 3 hours class per week. Plus 1 hour prep and 1 hour grading for every hour in class. No travel if you taught via video alongside your normal Creative Writing course this fall. That makes this offer approximately $5.56/hour. Of course, since the pay is capped, there is a natural disincentive to doing a good job if that means spending more time. What they're really offering, in economic terms, is a minimum wage job with a singular price floor/ceiling and an incentive for the employee to do a poor job.


I'm reminded of the advice we MFAs received at the University of Florida from the tenured prof who provided the massive lectures for Technical Writing: 400 students in the live lecture on Monday nights, 100-200 more in the video replays that happened at least two other nights a week.  We MFAs served as his teaching assistants, instructing the smaller "lab" sessions (18 students in a computer lab where we practiced whatever writing that week's lecture covered).

The prof told us very frankly that if we excelled as teachers of those labs, we were wasting our time and working too hard: that we weren't being paid enough to be great teachers and that our main task was to do our own graduate work. Therefore, he expected us all to be mediocre as TAs.

Once, I remember having an issue with a particular student, and I asked the prof about it; he advised me well about what to do but also starkly told me where to draw the line, reminding me that to be mediocre got his praise but to go the extra mile got his disapproval. This is partly because he didn't think the students were worth the trouble (the good ones would figure it out despite my mediocrity) but mostly because he didn't think it was really my job. 

He had a point or two there.

Looks like Centenary @ Hackettstown should expect the same kind of mediocrity.  Even poets should know better than to work for that pay.