Saturday, May 28, 2011

Doctor No: Why I Will Never Become A University Professor

"I will not be able to attend the AR conference this weekend as I have another conference commitment, but I'm sure you will do well."

And, just like that, the final two years of my collegiate career came to a screeching halt.

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to graduate from the University of San Diego with a Master's Degree in Literacy, Culture, and Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL). Graduation was the culmination of my time at USD as I finished by submitting what ended up being a 130 page action research project as well as presenting my findings at the 8th Annual USD Action Research Conference, which brought presenters from all over the country to the campus. It was a stressful period trying to get everything done and also continuing to try and be the best classroom teacher I could be and so, when all was said and done, my classmates and I celebrated our accomplishments. However, as soon as celebrations ended, the next question became what would we all do now?

That is a question that has been weighing on my mind heavily during the last couple weeks. I have been fortunate enough to have an extremely loving and supportive family who have given me financial assistance during my time at USD. Now that I have my master's degree in a new area of expertise, and the upcoming pay raise that accompanies it, the next logical question in my life is how I can better myself as a teacher. Spending time with extended family as well as my parents last weekend gave me a chance to begin to analyze this question more in depth. The logical question my extended family gave me was whether or not I was done my adventures in higher education, or if I ever saw myself continuing on and receiving my doctoral degree as a way of becoming a university professor. I scoffed at this possibility because one thing I know for sure: I will never, ever become a full-time college professor.

The reasons for this decision are fairly simple. First and foremost is the notion that being a college professor forces you to become more of a researcher rather than an instructor. You ultimately have to put your research first and your classes and students second and that is something that is unfathomable to me at this point in my teaching career. I teach because of the students and for me to be involved in the education profession and not have this be the case is simply not feasible to me. I honestly could not deal with a college dean constantly hassling me about my research and telling me to put for effort on that and less effort on my students and classes. If you were to ask me to choose between students and research, I would choose students 100 times out of 100, which clearly shows I am not college professor material.

Another related reason is the fact that there is huge a huge disconnect between professors and students at the university level. Students are a face in a crowded auditorium hall and nothing more. I had a calculus professor in college in a class of about 40 students. The next semester, when some friends and I visited a group of students studying abroad in Venice, Italy, that same professor was leading the group. When we visited the house he introduced himself and I said, "Oh, Professor Howards, I had you for calculus last semester." He smiled and shook his head and said, "I'm sorry I must have forgotten." And this professor was actually one of the better professors on the Wake Forest University campus. I had other professors who as soon as I left there class became oblivious to me even when I walked past them and said hi on campus. For them, they had given me their required semester to me and the rest of my classmates and that was all there was to it.

The last reason I could never become a college professor is the fact that the few professors who have inspired me have been removed from their positions for one reason or another. I guess this is what happens when you gravitate toward free-thinking professors who aren't simply yes-men or yes-women. My college advisor at Wake Forest was asked not to return because he challenged a student-teacher to take his position more seriously. My favorite Spanish professor who brought our group to Spain was mysteriously dismissed while there for reasons that we students never were told about. A sociology professor who first made me aware of socio-economic inequality through generational poverty and the Project Censored website was not offered tenure at Wake Forest. My professor at USD who brought a group of us to Kenya last summer was not that she will not be able to lead a return group this summer because she left some excess material in a storage room on campus that included science supplies and children's books that we unfortunately did not have room for on our trip. All these professors, who valued education and their students as genuine human beings, lost professional opportunities for simply being good, caring teachers.

Which brings us back to the quote at the beginning of this post. That quote stems from an email that my college advisor wrote to me. Here was my advisor, a person with a doctoral degree in education, and somebody that I had worked with over the past two years and who had met with me a half dozen times on my thesis, saying that she had no interest in seeing me through to the end. Unlike Professor Howards, she knew my name. And yet, she didn't care enough about me to see the culmination of my work, my work which I had essentially been developing for the entire two years I was under her watch, at a conference at the very school she taught at. In her email she told me the reason she could not attend the conference was that she was scheduled for another conference the same weekend. Again, it boils down to professional demands rather than focusing on your students. For me personally, I can never imagine missing something that important in any one of my students' lives.

I guess that is why I can never be a college professor.

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