The End of Teaching Art?

Well, for me anyway…

I haven’t written anything here in over a month, because: In that time I’ve made 3 round trips from here (east coast) to California and spent a week in Japan. That time involved finishing a semester, beginning a (luckily enrolled) summer term, 4 interviews, and a vacation.

I currently have no prospects for my own future. While once hopeful about the “scholarship” support and engagement with art discourses academia seemed to offer, I find myself discouraged, bitter, and cynical.

Above all things, having barely strung along successive academic employments, my experience as a post-secondary art teacher has proved to be the single largest obstacle to my career as an artist. Ironically, my inattention to my art is one of the biggest obstacles to getting into a position that will support those efforts. The past few years have gone something like this:

1. Spend January-May applying and interviewing for jobs. Have no time for art.
2. Spend June re-starting my studio work. Re-starting is slow.
3. Spend July packing same studio + home and moving in August.
4. Spend August – October preparing & developing new classes and acclimating to new environment.
5. Spend Xmas break remembering the art I almost made in June and living the life of a real artist.
6. Realize this Xmas break is the last chance I have to develop new work for the upcoming application season, part of which I’ve already missed.
7. Go to step 1, repeat 3 times.

Blah. So, I went and interviewed on campuses, right? Sounds hopeful – but only from the outside:

1. On a Monday I flew to San Jose to interview at private 4-year U (3-year lecturer gig). But, 4-YrU has someone already in said position… The night I arrive, dinner with dept. chair, chair reveals that this is not a “rotating” position and could be renewed indefinitely. Hmm, bad… Morning of interview – dept. office has current guy penciled into clearly visible calendar for an interview the week before. I.e. job is not actually open. I’ve wasted my time preparing for nothing, the university is required to force guy#1 to reapply for job they want him to have and to interview people they will not hire. I gave it my best anyway.
2. The following Friday I interview at Regional Comm. College, a (long) commutable distance from my home. I believe I do well. RegCC does not hire me. I find out this week that the hiring was canceled. Eek, budget woes I assume. They ask me if I’m interested in adjunct work. I might do it, it seems good there. But, said part-time work typically pays 25-30% of the full-time work I interviewed for, and without benefits.
3. The next Tuesday came, and I interviewed near Mid-Size California City at Area Community College. Said college is beautiful and new. Hiring process is formal and does not include one moment of the college trying to make me want the job (only me selling myself to them). Hiring is a two-way street, I interpret their non-acknowledgment here as a negative. I return on a red-eye flight to teach my class. College calls the day after the interview to invite me to meet the president. I’m in no position to say no.
3. Four days later I leave for one week in Japan.
4. I return from Japan at 10:00pm. The following day I go to my office, confirm summer enrollment, borrow laptop, go home, pack, and fly back to Mid-size California City at 5:00pm. Meet Pres. & VP. at 9:30 am. Things are OK, but I leave with no sense of where the school is going or if they’re interested in what I can offer. No tour – don’t see art classrooms, don’t meet other art faculty. Receive short tour of secondary campus for only real human to human contact during the process. But, alas, this one position that actually exists does not hire me. I don’t know why, I don’t know why not. The kicker, they only reimburse a max of $250/trip. For 2 trips, I spent around $1,200 traveling. And, a vacation it wasn’t.

Well, at least the cycle I mentioned before has broken – just not the way I wanted it to. I’m left with 3 open possibilities for adjunct work in my region. I could take them, hope my little ol’ Kia can manage the travel and work twice as hard as I do now for less than half of my salary (and hope to god I don’t accidentally stumble into a doctor’s office). But, what would you do if your boss said, “Hey, great job here. But, sorry, but, well, even though we need you and like you, we’re not going to pay you any more. How would you like to come back for 1/3 of your salary?” I could make more money managing a Burger King.

My current college has faculty comprised of 78% adjuncts. Faced with that trend… I’m faced with changing professions. It’s not like the “No Child Left Behind” generation is fun to teach anyway. They’re dumb. Really, they lack basic learning skills. My job is one in which I give, because the students need a lot. My reward is my pay. Or, it was my pay. If academic employers don’t value faculty, and they don’t want to pay us, and the students don’t want to learn…

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2 Responses

  1. Boy Oh Boy, am I glad I found this blog. It is so ironic because just yesterday I wrote a post on my own blog about making changes in my teaching life. I am an artist and I too feel so frustrated and confused. I am now trying to create (positive) changes in my art life.
    I am going to bookmark this blog and read it this weekend. I am sure I can learn from your experiences.
    Thanks!!!
    Sheree Rensel

  2. Ha! I know about “Art cannot be Taught”. I read the book. Also, I know this will not add even a morsel of optimism you possess, but I read this post and kept saying “YEP, YEP, YEP, Tell it!!”

    Back years ago, I was an adjunct in the fine arts department of two colleges. I loved it. I got pushed out by tenured staff when the economy went bad. They had the right to take my classes. I wallered around for a few years and did artist-in-the-schools gigs. Then, I got an offer to teach K-12. I was horrified. However, I had a little daughter and she needed health insurance. I took the job. Fast forward to 2004. I finally got fed up with the K-12 system. I wanted back into the college level art teaching biz. You are right. Even those students are NEEDy! However, I was happier and had more time for art. I took the plunge and applied at a local college. I got an interview. I was hired. THEN, the classes didn’t run. I had planned on working that job while still being employed full time by the school district. I figured I would get my feet wet and gain more college experience. After that, I would start applying to full time college jobs. When my classes didn’t run, I waited until the next semester. The college administrator told me to sit tight. I did. I got the college class schedule for the upcoming semester and my classes weren’t even listed. I called her and she very nonchalantly told me “Oh, we didn’t feel those classes were worth running.”
    I was so ticked off and mortified. I gave up looking for a college job.
    I totally understand your frustration. The weirdest part of all this is I am a total Type A giver when it comes to teaching jobs. They would be lucky to have me. Yet, I stand here with a lost dream.
    I have no idea what will come next for me. I really don’t. One of the things you wrote that made me stand up out my chair is:
    “I currently have no prospects for my own future.”
    I hear you!!! This is the most awful, devastating feeling! I have always had a target to aim for and a goal to reach. Now, I feel like a fish flopping on a boat deck. I can’t breath.
    Thanks for your insights.
    Sheree Rensel

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