Teaching for Money

I was once given the advice to not start down the path of depending on summer teaching as a source of income. The point was a general one, meant to inspire me to allow time for research and writing in the summer. Well, this summer both my wife and I are transitioning to new jobs. I graduated in May and her postdoc is ending during the summer, so we have a gap in income over the summer before my new job starts. This is not uncommon for graduate students, and one approach is to pick up some extra teaching to fill the gap (we also spread the gap out through our annual budget). So, I taught a Maymester course on the Bureaucratic State for money. I freely admit it. But I learned a lot from the experience, am thankful to have had it, and wish to share a few observations.

The month was difficult, that I will also admit. We are still juggling doing our own daycare for little man, so my days consisted of teaching prep and daddy daycare. My wife was incredible, picking up a lot of the load while still doing her job well, but it was certainly stressful for us at times. There were moments when I wished I had taken the advice above, feeling like I was selling out instead of acting on a sense of passion or desire to teach. Not to mention, I quickly ran out of prepared material and had to prep a day-ahead for part of the course, which can be anxiety producing. But my perspective was completely different each day when I entered the classroom. I was richly blessed with a small, but very talkative, class. As many of us do, they have strong opinions about bureaucrats and the bureaucracy, so there was never a shortage of conversation. I relished the two-hour class format of Maymester, which allowed for a better mix of lecture and discussion. I do love teaching, which helped the class sessions remain fun and enjoyable.

Here are a few observations from my experience of teaching for money:

1. Do not be ashamed

I think the advice I was given was good advice, particularly for providing yourself with the freedom to accept or decline extra teaching, depending on your present circumstances. But, I think it is important to not be ashamed if you need to pick up some extra teaching in order to provide for you (and perhaps your family’s) needs. I say this because I know some other recent-grads in a similar situation. We would talk in hushed tones, and somewhat ashamedly, about why we were teaching when we had already secured jobs for the fall. Then I had the opportunity to have this same discussion with the grad director, who affirmed the gap that scholars often face when transitioning from graduate school. Providing for yourself and/or your family is important and academia is our chosen method of provision, thus we sometimes need to pick up extra summer work to do so. Do not be ashamed of it.

That being said…

2. It is not an excuse to slack

Ok, so the deeper motivation for offering a class may be practicality, not passion, but that does not mean that we can sluff off our responsibility to offer a good class for the students. I whole-heartedly agree that college is not a commodity, but we have a responsibility to our students to show up and do our jobs. Ok, soap-box done.

3. Get more out of the class than a paycheck

Going into the class, I knew I had the opportunity, and the difficulty, of prepping a new course. Yes, this was a lot of work for an intensive class, but it gave me the chance to mold the course to better fit my scholarly interests. In this case, I structured the class in a way that allowed me to work through some ideas for a book project, right alongside my students. It became a conversation about the very literature in which I will be working for the near future. Thus, it was immensely helpful for getting me out of my dissertation, and into something new. Furthermore, the course gave me the opportunity to generate additional ideas by refreshing my understanding of where there are gaps in the related literature. There were moments when I thought, “Hmmm, I did not realize that no one has addressed that yet.” It is good not only for us, but also for the students, when our teaching meshes with our research. We had a richer dialogue when I could discuss with them the gaps in the research and how we might address them. Think of teaching the class as an opportunity to generate new ideas or prepare for a new project.

If it is a class that you have offered often, take the opportunity to re-structure the course, engage with new material, or try new teaching techniques. Yes, these require some additional investment, but they produce benefits beyond the paycheck. 

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