I just received a contract in the last week to stay on at my university, and I’m relieved to have at least that much stability while wondering what the future holds.
I wasn’t necessarily giving myself an ulcer wondering if I was going to be employed after May…but I was probably close. Like many whose employment was impacted by the pandemic, I found myself apprehensive about my future. After all, I’m currently on a one-year teaching contract, with no guarantee that it would be extended into the future.
Thankfully, it just was, and thus I can continue to have an academic affiliation and full-time work (and healthcare!!!) while figuring out what, if anything, comes next. Because it’s a weird mental place to be in, to be feeling abjectly relieved to have work, while also feeling annoyed that I continue to not be able to plan my life out more than 1 year in advance.
The job market for academic folklorists continues to barely exist; I don’t think there were any tenure-track jobs advertised this past year, so I’m not optimistic about that picking up. Plus, my PhD is 9 years old, which means it’s probably getting “stale” from some perspectives, despite the fact that I’ve kept up with scholarship in my field and published a ton (one of the papers I’d mentioned in a recent post is now out, btw…here’s a link if you want to read about trauma in fairy-tale retellings!).
I’ve written recently about grieving the loss of academic community due to the pandemic, so my hope is that when we return to campus in the fall for a “normal” semester, I’m able to engage with my colleagues in a rewarding way again. Maybe we’ll get to have in-person conferences again the fall. I know there are still some variables in terms of how fast the vaccine is being distributed and which demographics are receiving it (I think teachers just became eligible in Indiana, for example), so there’s no saying when things will return to a somewhat regular state. And I’ve also seen plenty of people writing about how returning to “normal” shouldn’t necessarily be our goal…frankly, “normal” was not working in many ways.
However, education is one of the fields that has been majorly impacted by the pandemic. Every teacher and student I interact with is deeply burned out and fatigued. So while there are plenty of problems in higher education that we should continue to try to address, I think just returning to a normal-length semester with most classes either offered face-to-face or online (not this unholy and utterly exhausting hybrid/hy-flex combination that many of us find ourselves stranded in) will help address many of the strains we’re feeling. Notably, a “normal” semester includes breaks such as spring break, which my university is currently skipping in its condensed spring semester, and I’m pretty sure everyone is feeling it.
I am anticipating some recovery time this summer, maybe also some more time for writing. Perhaps I’ll have the bandwidth to try to think a bit more about my future. I’ve written about how underfunded universities are, which is at odds with how the American public still pays lip service to college as an important rite of passage. If we don’t make some strides in addressing this issue, I don’t think higher education has much of a future, which is bad news for educators like me without tenure (or hell, for those with tenure too; I’ve seen news reports of tenured professors being given 1-3 years notice of termination, and something similar happened to a friend of mine).
I don’t like feeling so ambivalent about my career, but I also don’t know how else to feel. I’m not sure if this happens in other careers, where you spend 8+ years training for a specific job and then it isn’t available but you’re told it might be if you just hang in there, underpaid and underemployed??? Honestly, I think my family and close friends are getting tired of watching me suffer defeat after defeat after angling for a tenure-track professorship for the last 9 years (they’re still supportive, but I’m guessing it’s painful for them to see me bruise myself against this particular wall; this hadn’t occurred to me til recently, since I can be self-absorbed at times, but I don’t like the thought of causing pain to my loved ones).
For now, though I’m focusing on how much I love teaching, and how much I love research and scholarship. I’m already excited about the classes I’ll be teaching next semester. For now, that’s enough.