a funny thing happened on the way to graduation

22 Feb

So you just spent twenty thousand dollars (or more) on a MFA from an upscale, well known, widely hailed University, stand at the threshold of forever, eager and excited to start teaching at the post-secondary level. You did all the extra things: Nailed every essay, published every assignment, befriended every professor, did extracurriculars, published your thesis, and made sure to play nice and never burn a bridges.

It’s late on Thursday and you find a position open at a major University. Qualifications match up perfect and you think you are going to hit it out of the park, land the big job, marry the Prom queen, suddenly gain 20/20 vision, no longer need Extenz, be able to stay awake past 9 o’clock, lose sixty pounds, and live, as some say, happily ever after.

Let me pinch you. Yes, you are dreaming.

California, 2009 and I am about to graduate with an MFA in Creative Writing from the aforementioned prestigious school.

Here’s reality.

To teach in an English Department at a Community College in the state of California you need a couple of things:

1. Master’s in English, literature, comparative literature, or composition, OR Bachelor’s in any of the above AND Master’s in linguistics or applied linguistics, TESL, speech, education with a specialization in reading or education with an English emphasis, creative writing (MFA in creative writing also accepted), journalism, or rhetoric/composition, OR The equivalent.

When I first read this I thought, not a problem. Then I had to fill out an equivalency form. Each college is unique both in requirements of proof and manner of acceptance. My school wrote me a note that covered some of the more intensive demands. This is still an issue, but not as much as when I started searching.

2. Experience

This is tricky. Some schools don’t explicitly say experience teaching at a post-secondary level. I have taught, not at that specific level. If you haven’t taught at the post-secondary level, hold your breath. There may be a chance, however minor, even minuscule, but a chance. Most likely the advice you will receive is to go adjunct and that’s an entirely different drama.

3. Luck

My luck ran out the second I jumped screaming from the womb.

4. Who you know

It makes sense doesn’t it? If you have a colleague that can provide introductions, kind words, subtle bribes, chances improve. Greatly.

The reality today is a new grad with zero post-secondary teaching experience without a major press book and/or literary prizes has zero chance at a tenure track position.

The day after I graduate in June I start a job for the US government at a military base just below the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It’s not teaching and I can’t really talk about it, but it’ll pay off my college loan, keep a roof over my daughter’s head and delay my ghost writing adult themed pulp fiction.

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