Recently, someone in my former field interviewed me about being retired. I told her I preferred to think of myself as unemployed. After I quit my last academic position as a consequence of a contract dispute (message: read your contracts carefully), I tried for a few others, but no one wanted to hire me.
That wasn’t a whine, just a statement that none of the four or five universities to which I applied made me an offer—although I got close with one. Admittedly, I was seriously circumscribing my possibilities by applying only for positions near either my son in Kansas City or daughter in Harrisonburg, VA. I have not been searching for a position because I need a job. I was looking because I like to teach and direct writing programs.
The field is competitive. There are all sorts of reasons why most universities would not want to hire me: I’m a bit of a contrarian. I think grades are idiotic; argument as a genre, overrated; and personal writing, underutilized. Introductory writing courses at the university level can use writing as a way of having students engage in conversations with their classmates about issues that affect them, not us: like the pressure of exams; the gap between home and university life; what kind of professions and life styles they are imagining for themselves. It’s actually easy to imagine writing topics that young people would want to write about and share with each other as long as you don’t place them in pseudo writing situations over which hang the sword of grades.
You can see why most universities might not want to hire me. I might be a bad teacher, but that’s simply not true. I’m a good teacher. When my students left my classes, most of them were more writers than when they came in. I began under the assumption that people like to write—until the desire gets schooled out of them. My job was to school that desire back in.
And I’m old, at least as far as the clock goes. That might not be the dominant reason that schools to which I have applied wanted to keep me at arm’s length. But I’ve wondered about the degree to which my age was working against me. I’m 74 and no one wants to hire a full professor and have him or her hang around for two years before vanishing to the Barbados.
But I could teach until I die. Teaching is a wonderful profession. I can help any group of students discover more about themselves, their classmates, and their relationships to the world by writing. I have enjoyed teaching simply because I have helped bring writing into my students’ lives. I miss it.