“Don’t spend too much time on teaching or you will end up as an adjunct” is code for: “The kinds of courses [women and] adjuncts teach, take up inordinate amounts of time and if you engage in that, you will never get ahead.”
I was always willing to conduct literary research and teach so as to make money and be at a major research institution in an interesting city with good beaches and hiking nearby. It was that way in Berkeley, Barcelona, Lima, São Paulo … being in these places, at the institutions I was in, I did not miss working on the things that really matter to me as much as I came to do when I renounced research and cities. Literature, which involves languages and history and research, was at least not music or art, so it was research and writing, not studio or performance. It allowed for travel and archival work, and life was interesting, so I was happy. But I am not literature-1, I am not teaching-1, and I truly dislike teaching foreign languages.
I would make tenure in a really good place, which would prove I was deserving and a full person. Then I would resign and start college again. I would be paying for it myself, which would also prove my validity. I would also not feel so responsible to others. Very far away from home, I would not have to
feel so ashamed of be shamed for not choosing a genteel field. This was my general plan.
Being efficient and realistic and not all that teaching oriented, I never needed all the lectures I got about how spending time on teaching would sink me for tenure. I am terrified of teaching, though, because I am so imprinted with the idea that if I do it, I will be doomed. I am further terrified because in real life as I have come to know it, you have to be teaching oriented or die.
But I never did “spend too much time on teaching,” until this semester in which I decided to become responsible, creative and inspired like the people at SLACs and the people who teach intermediate courses in the English department. It is a huge amount of work and it is boring, and it falls flat. And we are locked into this forced, mechanical situation (it turns out that in practice the way these people teach ends up resembling teaching foreign languages, with all these mechanical methods and exercises and rubrics and so on, things I truly dislike) — or at least locked into the books. When I could have just done what I always do, and we could have been more creative, more educated, and more inspired than we are now, and I would not keep getting sick (and, incidentally, would stop wondering how long my life will last, hoping I die in the night, becoming more acutely aware about how zombie-like I have been the last twenty years, since I sacrificed myself to Reeducation).
On another note: do you think it would be legitimate never to teach another novel, but just to assign them to graduate students as summer reading? I do not (unequivocally) enjoy (most) novels myself, and I only teach them because that is part of what one does in modern literature. But people do not have time to read them during the term, and undergraduates no longer have the skills to read anything that long. Should I just stop trying to teach them?
(I am not really this negative in real life, of course, and this blog, as we know, exists to explore and cast off my dark thoughts. And I am utterly philosophical about issues like choice of field. It would help a lot to have a better place to work, though. I will renew my vow to drive into town every weekend, impractical though this seems on the face of it. And the fact is that if I were doing something I had chosen freely, something I could really commit to without coercion, something that felt meaningful and valuable, something that had to do with my first interests and goals, things would fall more easily into place, and life would not be so hard.)