I came to New York to start graduate school in the fall of 2007. I was rather naive, and I didn’t really have much of a plan, job-wise: I figured I’d survive on my student loans and get done as fast as I could, in five years or less, optimally. This is not what happened.
In the beginning, I had a part time job at a lab at the GC. That was not enough, so I got a job teaching ESL and remedial English at TCI in my second semester (spring 2008). Shortly after that, I started teaching at LaGuardia Community College (fall 2008). I loved teaching at LAGCC, and much preferred it to TCI, but I had to keep the TCI job, and take whatever they gave me, because I could never rely on getting section at LAGCC. Some semesters I’d have one, sometimes two, sometimes none. I was once offered a winter mini-mester session to teach at LAGCC (winter 2011), one week deep into the seven week term, because the original instructor had disappeared. Barely briefed, with none of the first week’s work, just thrown into the room, but I was desperately grateful. Of course: who wouldn’t be? I’ve also taught at Montclair State (two semesters) and am now teaching at Queens College. I’ve taught at other ESL schools in the city, usually found via friends or desperate Craigslist searches.
On the one hand, I suppose I should be proud of my varied experience and of my incredible ability to McGyver my way through teaching experiences I’m under-prepared for (because of how adjuncts are called upon). On the other, I’ve taken absurd teaching loads just because I want departments to know that yes, I WILL take anything, always, because I want to desperately to be picked. I’ve put my own work on hold again and again to drop everything and seek other work when I don’t get sections, or sections get canceled on the first day of classes, or when CUNY payroll somehow can’t manage to pay me for weeks or months on end. The stress of never having a steady job or reliable paycheck is worse than I want to say, the lack of steady health insurance led to my living through fairly terrible things, and the desperation and fear are humiliating as well as crippling.
I take out student loans every year because I don’t make enough to survive on, and I can’t trust that I’ll get sections. The sad thing is that while the loans are supposed to mean I don’t teach so much that I can’t get my own work done, I put so much work and time into teaching that it gets in the way anyway. Grad school stretches on, I scramble all the time, and I’ll be paying for this the rest of my life. The last one keeps me up at night more than you’d think.
I’m glad I love teaching so much. If not for that, I’d have little to hold on to sometimes, in terms of purpose and self worth. I’m lucky in that.
I work myself into the ground, I hide my fiscal situation from colleagues and students (in carefully chosen H&M), and neglect my own work, and for what? I am no one. I am worthless to this system. That is abundantly clear. But I love my research, and I love teaching. I’m one of the few mad ones I know who hasn’t gotten around to considering dropping out and moving on. I just struggle on, try to get things done, and wonder if and when I’ll be applying for Medicaid again.
And this is what I should tell my parents when they demand to know why I’m still in graduate school, and why I still have student loans, but I’m too ashamed to say.