I quit my job last week, which was probably a mistake in hindsight. Not that I needed hindsight to tell me that. I knew it two weeks ago when I was throwing apples against my door in an attempt to relieve stress and anger. I knew it at the start of the semester when I vowed I wouldn’t let the pressure get to me somewhere around late February and early March when, forewarned by the breakdowns of last semester, I knew even “getting through” would seem impossible.

It’s not as if I didn’t know the whole idea—grad school, that is, with a TAship being “the job”—was probably a mistake if I was taking my mental health into consideration. Instead I signed up to teach three classes and take three others, requiring three research projects in one semester. But it’s a job, right? A salary is a good thing, and teaching is really pretty awesome once you get over the blank stares of students, and I’ve never actually disliked writing papers or doing research.

But this semester the papers are endless, boring, and filled with more required brown-nosing than content. The blank stares are back worse than ever, this time accompanied by 50 emails a night, and when you’re answering those emails, grading 75 outlines in a week and 75 speeches the next, it’s pretty hard to collect original data for three different research projects about which I’ve been making things up as I go along.

Not worth it. So not worth it.

So I quit.

It started like a normal Monday—my whole body shivering in the 6 a.m. freeze leaking through the cracks in my bedroom wall until I slugged back some coffee. Then, bundled up under two pairs of pants and three sweaters, I walk-jogged with my eyes streaming and nose running to my hole-in-the-wall office through the sub-zero morning air. As soon as I hit the office I peeled off the layers as quickly as I could to avoid sweating through the bottom one or two that I would have to wear for the next fourteen hours I’d be in windowless rooms frantically keeping my to-do list stable at only ten items of varying importance (personal hygiene and nutrition being on the low end).

I arrived at my first class to the students’ faces of sullen sleepiness. I smiled. I started up the computer, yanked the overhead screen until it stayed in place. I tried not to think about the paper due two hours after I finished teaching that I’d scraped together the night before. I tried even less to think about the six hours of grad classes waiting for me during which, in the first, I would have to listen to student F and student Y argue about esoteric ideas without listening to one another’s jargon-spews and, in the second, listen to student C’s monologues about himself and other things he doesn’t understand while I do my best to stay awake and pretend to understand why postmodernism holds any water at all.

I made it through the teaching. I made it through office hours—even though all five students who came in asked questions I’d covered in class, were also written out on the syllabus and the book, and which were not anywhere near the main problems on their outlines—and even survived student F and student Y’s ramblings. But the night class was it. The breaking point. The point at which I stood up and said,

“This has become ridiculous.”

And I took the course packet and ripped up a few of its pages. Not all of them of course since half of it belongs to my friend who split it with me—$72 dollars!—but just a few of the boring ones at the beginning that didn’t actually relate to anything in the class but we had had to read them anyway. I sprinkled the pieces on my professor’s head, bundled myself back up in eighteen layers and lit out for the far west, warmth and golden coastlines.

I didn’t do any of that.

But I did just use 45 minutes of my morning to write a blog post instead of doing the schoolwork bearing down on me. A little rebellion is all I need to sustain me while I wait for spring.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    oh man, just reading this is giving me flashbacks to my teaching days. I’ve been trying to write about it somehow and haven’t managed to make it coherent yet (I’m still experiencing Post Teaching Stress Disorder, I think).

    You’ll make it. And then every time you look back on it for the rest of your life (judging by how strongly I still feel this two years later) you’ll wonder how on earth you didn’t die in the process and feel tired and satisfied and mildly upset and proud all at the same time.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Grad school + self-care = an uneasy mix. It’s such a hard balance to strike. My program director, who is a brilliant and amazing woman, sleeps from 2-6 am, sees her husband on the weekends, usually (he’s a professor in Illinois), and was hospitalized for several months just a couple of years ago. I love her, but I decided pretty quickly that if that was what I took to be a tenured Research I professor, I didn’t want it. It wasn’t worth it.

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    • Avatar

      And then I entered a career path that involves odd hours, working weekends, and extreme emotional investment, so, you know…

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Oh, ELAINE. Blessings and warm thoughts and good wishes showered upon you. I well know so much of what you are describing–not all of it, but much of it.

    It is good, so good, to give yourself the mental freedom to imagine ditching it all. And hey, maybe you will someday. But maybe you won’t. Either one is a good choice.

    And, p.s. five students in your office hours? Take that as a huge compliment.

    Reply

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