The Waiting is the Annoying Part
Any day now, I expect to receive a letter from a school I have a ten-year relationship with. The contents of the form letter will indicate that I am no longer employed with said school; I know it is coming, but the waiting is the annoying part. I would rather be teaching classes instead of waiting for the ax to fall. The school’s policy, however, is that if you do not teach a class in a calendar year, you are out. My last class with them ended late last year and, given the prior frequency of my schedule and the lack thereof this year, likely there is no reasonable expectation of getting a class before that window closes.
When you are contract faculty, schools typically do not formally terminate you, they “ghost” you, stop offering classes and stop responding to emails. One day your access to the school’s systems is locked and you no longer work there. Such is the nature of contract work, and we all should go into a new job knowing that with an exit strategy. At least this school will send a formal notice when they show you the door and, really, I appreciate that.
ABS – Always Be Searching
Given no reasonable expectation of more classes floating down this revenue stream, the most obvious question is what to do now. First, build a bridge and get over it. No one likes to be fired, especially from a job we were pretty good at and had been for a long time, but at least campus security is not escorting us off the property. Best to remember, “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” (The Godfather). Treat this change as a business opportunity, the chance to step into something better. Too often we misunderstand or misread what we are given at the time. I have been shown the door several times in my life, and the experience has always turned out solidly in my favor, though, perhaps, I did not realize it while it was happening. Through the calmer lenses of time, I can see clearly now that I had become too comfortable, and an unwelcome shakeup in my life was what I needed to move on to better pastures. Best take the event at face value and move on.
Signs and Symptoms
The end date of my class has been sitting quietly in the back of my head all year, so this does not come as any kind of surprise, and we should always keep in mind where we are with our schedules. Certainly, sometimes a termination comes at us from nowhere, but my experience is that when something happens we can usually backtrack and see the signs retrospectively. The key to knowing where you are in the world is to notice those signs along the way so you can plan and not be surprised or even upset when you can no longer log into your school email account.
Watching for Changes
Class sizes have grown significantly in the past couple of years at this school. I have run undergrad classes with four students and then watched those classes swell to twenty-two students. Administration began sending out emails telling us to expect larger classes. We were told to expect large classes and effectively to ease off grading as the new policy came into effect. Larger classes naturally mean fewer classes and, in turn, the need for fewer faculty to teach those larger classes. Another sign I took notice of.
Looking through my records, I have taught exactly 100 classes for this school, not a shabby record by any stretch. However, enrollment is down with the economy not where it was in 2008 when everyone went back to further their education, and faculty at this school have been getting these termination letters for a couple of years now; no surprise there. My courses have been in more demand than others, though it has been a few years since I was teaching three graduate courses at one time back to back to back. Those were good days and good direct deposits. From nine classes in six months to six classes in twelve months is a relatively good barometer for supply and demand, a sign I took notice of.
It’s Not Personal
I have to believe that being one rung from the top salary for a course has to figure into some HR equation out there as well, a business decision and something to keep in mind when the class offerings dwindle. The accountants are always noticing profit and loss and, like it or not, faculty are a necessary salary liability. With the widespread desire to teach online, potential faculty are lined up around the block, and many will take a teaching gig no matter how low it pays just to have it. This makes it a buyer’s market for school administrators needing to fill teaching slots while controlling costs. Contract faculty are, of course, a fungible resource. We are all replaceable by someone who will take less money to do the job.
Be Ready to Market
Gather up what is necessary to introduce yourself to a potential employer. A solid, up to date CV is requisite and a dynamic document that you should update routinely to reflect what you are doing. Keep an updated PDF of your CV handy. When someone asks for a copy of a CV, the professional can send it via email almost immediately. More than once I have gotten work same-day because I was prepared to send out my marketing materials. As Pasteur noted, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” If the signs of change are on the wind, start getting prepared to open sails to take advantage of it.
While I still get daily emails from this school and from my department, some months ago I stopped receiving anything from the local ground campus. The faculty at the local campus regularly sent out newsletters and invitations to local events, making me feel a bit more connected to the school. None of that now. While those dots do not connect themselves, something has happened to render me invisible to that campus. Another sign I took notice of.
Scheduling is another dead end. When times were good, my departmental scheduler stopped bothering to email to ask if I wanted a class or if I could pick up for another instructor. She would simply assign the class and call to tell me what she had assigned and where I needed to be and when. That was pretty awesome, and I appreciated that relationship. I was her faithful go-to when she needed a fill in. Since last year, all emails to scheduling have gone unanswered.
So, I am a short-timer waiting for the ax to fall.
What to Have on Hand
Being prepared means keeping copies of graduate transcripts handy in PDF form as well. Every school will require an official copy of these transcripts, of course, but keep a copy to email with a current CV. Bookmark the links for ordering official transcripts as well to avoid looking for the site when official transcripts are needed by HR. Consider keeping copies of the receipts from ordering transcripts for tax purposes; costs associated with searching for employment are deductible.
Revenue Mix is Important
Of course, this school is not my only teaching gig, or, frankly, even my best, but it has been a comfortable job and relatively easy money. This school is not my only revenue stream, and teaching is not my only revenue. As with any investment portfolio, diversification is the means for mitigating losses when one investment takes a turn or goes away completely. Always have other schools in the revenue mix so that the loss of one is annoying, not catastrophic, and always balance teaching revenue with other revenues to further spread the risk.
I try to remember to review and revise my Teaching Philosophy Statement so it is fresh and current with my experience and attitudes. My teaching philosophy and approach have changed over the past decade, and my Teaching Philosophy Statement should reflect where I am in my career now. Some potential employers ask for it and some do not, but I always include it as part of my marketing materials; never hurts to be thorough.
Again, It’s Not Personal
I am not so much upset as annoyed that I have not received notice of what is coming or some attempt on the part of scheduling or my department’s administration to find me a class to keep me from dropping off the employment rolls. Then again, from some of the email headers I get, there are a lot of faculty employed in my department and keeping up with just me is probably unrealistic, no point in belaboring it. To quote Bob Seger, “I feel like a number.”
Came home today from teaching two ground classes at a new school to find a form “Faculty Inactivation” (termination) letter in the mail. I had expected it to come in the fall, but the letter notes that faculty are now inactivated after six months of not teaching, so conditions at the school may be less favorable than expected. Well, that is likely good news in disguise, and I suppose the time is right to catch those prevailing winds and see where they take me.
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About the Author
Carl Eugene Moore, MBA, MFA
Carl Eugene Moore holds an MBA in Accounting & Finance, an MBA in Healthcare Management, an MFA in Creative Writing / English, and is currently completing a Doctorate in Healthcare Administration (ABD).