August
30th 2011
Is secondary school teaching “giving up on academia?”

Posted under: happy endings, jobs, students

Military historian and American women’s historian Tanya L. Roth has written three useful and thought-provoking posts on her job search in the past academic year.  (Job seekers might especially want to check out her series:  Part I, Part II, and Part III here.)  She has some nice reflections on her approach to the market, her goals, and her reasons for taking a job in an independent school teaching history and English.  Congratulations, Tanya, and good luck with your classes this year!  You will be tired at the end of every day with all of those new lectures to write and all of those new lessons to plan.

But, I’m a little taken aback by Tanya’s explanation of her job choice as “giving up on academia,” or more neutrally, “leaving” academia.  She’s teaching English and history–which sounds pretty academic to me, and I’m sure her work life will look a very similar to the work lives of those of us teaching at colleges or universities.  (At least, it will look more like our lives than the lives of your average bricklayer, retail clerk, or attorney, for example.)  Maybe I’m tragically naive because I’ve never worked outside of a college or university environment (except for summer jobs in high school and college, of course)–and that well may be the case–but to my mind, teaching secondary school doesn’t seem like she’s “given up” on anything.

I understand the status issues involved here between high school/prep school teaching and college teaching, and I don’t want to trivialize them.  Research–and at least a little bit of funding for travel and conferences– is built into our jobs at the college and university level in ways it’s not in secondary school teaching.  But it strikes me that having a Ph.D. means that Tanya will never “give up” academia–in fact, maybe we should think of secondary school teachers with Ph.D.s not as leaving something behind but as bringing it into a different environment.  And she’ll still have some time in the summers in which she can do research and write, if she chooses to.  (That’s when most of us in colleges and universities get our research and writing done, in fact.)  Most big conferences these really try to pull in local K-12 educators with panels and roundtables aimed at teaching, and many are even focused on K-12 teaching.  (I know that it’s a big part of the Berkshire Conference, and also the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association annual conferences). 

I know that the American historical profession has gone to some lengths over the past 150 years to set academic historians apart from antiquarians and popular writers on the one hand and high school teachers on the other–that’s what the process of professionalization was all about, after all.  But in a world in which more and more new Ph.D.s are looking at adjuncting as a way of life, and even those who secure tenure-track employment are frequently doing it in positions with heavy teaching loads and without much time or money for conference travel or research, I wonder if Tanya’s life will really look all that different from her peers who attempt to stay inside colleges and universities.

What do the rest of you think?

35 Comments »

35 Responses to “Is secondary school teaching “giving up on academia?””

  1. Dr. Crazy on 30 Aug 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    This is how I’ve heard of most people talk about the transition out of university teaching, but I think that “the academy” or “academia” here is being used interchangeably with post-secondary or “higher” education, as opposed to as synonymously with something like “teaching, thinking, and reading (and sometimes writing) about an academic discipline.”

    I will say that my high school BFF, who teaches high school English, does not think of herself as “an academic,” which I do. Yes, I am a “teacher,” but “teacher” is not my professional identity, whereas it is hers. And I can tell you that from my conversations with her, it does seem to me that there are profound differences in our working lives, just as I see profound differences between what I do and what someone who would identify professionally as a “researcher” does. Administratively, yes, but also practically, in terms of the work that one does as a teacher, I think there are substantial differences between high school teaching and university professing. Note: I am not saying here that professing is *better than* teaching – just different.

  2. Matt_L on 30 Aug 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Congratulations to Tanya! She has a full time job teaching what she wants to teach. She is living where she wants to live. That is a great thing.

    I am frustrated with two unspoken assumptions in our profession:

    Academia equals R1 university with lots of research support and not as many teaching responsibilities.

    Academia equals the only valid form of Intellectual work or the only way to live a life of the mind.

    As a result of these two assumptions it looks like any occupation outside of Higher Ed is not part of the generation of knowledge and furthering human understanding of the world.

    I want to say more, but I can’t figure out how to write it out clearly. And I need to go home…

  3. PG on 30 Aug 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    I come from a family of K-12 teachers; one parent taught K-12, one taught (actually teaches) in a university. The professions are profoundly different. I have never met a K-12 teacher who does the kind of research required in most college or university settings; that’s not to say that said teacher doesn’t keep on learning – most do – but they do so in very different ways (in-service training; pursuing advanced degrees – usually at the master’s level – school districts often pay more as one accumulates credit hours and degrees). K-12 teachers lack the autonomy that most college and university teachers have; though tenure can be had in the public school system, academic freedom seems to me to be largely non-existent – with the possible exception of very high-end prep schools, academies, etc. Even if No Child Left Behind had not left its mark, many school districts have deprived their teachers of the power to make informed decisions about the curriculum. K-12 teachers experience a lot more pressure from parents and administrators, and they tend to make a lot less. Teachers in our local school district make even less than our non-tenured full-time faculty (though they make more than our part-time faculty). I have the greatest admiration for K-12 teachers (if I didn’t my mother and my aunts would slap me upside the head), but even they see their jobs as increasingly unattractive.

    Finally, I think that the accountability police – having drained much of the joy, autonomy, and creativity out of the publish school system – are moving on to higher ed.

    That’s my rant for the day!

  4. Tim Lacy on 30 Aug 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    PG: Well said. However, a distinction may be made between public and private secondary teaching. Tanya’s job may in fact have more connections to higher edu than a public high school teaching position. – TL

  5. Dr. Crazy on 30 Aug 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    What PG said, but also: My high school best friend is a public high school teacher. She’s at one of the best public high schools in the country, but still: that is a notable detail I should have included. FWIW, she makes about the same money as a friend of mine at a SLAC in a similarly high cost-of-living area, so I do think that salaries vary from district to district, state to state, even within the public sector.

  6. good enough cook on 30 Aug 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    Define “academia” however you want; it’s giving up the dream of a tenure-stream gig that’s the game-changer here.

    Yes, one can (if one has fully internalized the norms of grad school) continue to live as if one were on a tenure-stream, including researching and writing for publication in peer-reviewed journals (or a monograph). But I think for a lot of people, continuing engagement with current research in their field is going to take other forms, ones that are more consistent with advancement outside the tenure stream (e.g., becoming informed about a broader range of issues/topics than that required for specialized writing, research/writing about pedagogy, etc.)

    While efforts to draw K-12 teachers into postsecondary d conferences are welcome and helpful, the status differences remain profound. The day-to-day bafflement, incomprehension, and genial unwitting condescension of those friends and former colleagues who remain in the tenure stream probably matter more to one’s sense of self than the annual gestures of professional associations.

    To answer your question: yes, it is “giving up on academia” and embracing the very different (though equally valuable) forms that research and teaching take outside the tenure stream.

  7. rustonite on 30 Aug 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    most of the other grad students in my cohort and the one in front of me have given up on TT jobs. they plan to adjunct, teach high school, or (at best) teach at a community college. none of them plan on giving up research completely, but they’ve accepted that TT jobs are going to be non-existent, and it’s a waste of time preparing for them. I’m not quite that demoralized, but I’m getting there. although, I think we’re only “giving up” on academia in the sense that one “gives up” by getting on a lifeboat to abandon a sinking ship.

  8. New Kid on the Hallway on 30 Aug 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    I agree that there’s a big difference between independent schools and public schools (and then there are charter schools which are a little bit different again…). I think all the Ph.D.s I know who have chosen to teach high school after getting the Ph.D. (as opposed to having taught HS before) have ended up in independent schools. (For one thing, public schools will still require state certification, which can be kind of ridiculous for a person with a Ph.D. For instance, a friend of mine who teaches community college looked into public school teaching, and found out that to get certified she would have to take – among other courses – the very same US History class that she currently teaches [her Ph.D. is in European history so she never took Intro to US]. But I suppose that’s a different topic.)

    I think some people very much think of secondary teaching as “leaving” academia because it allows them to jettison many of the things they don’t like about higher ed and fully assume a new identity as a secondary school teacher. I don’t mean to suggest that the title “academic” should only be limited to people working at universities, if someone chooses to identify that way. But I also think that a lot of people who leave the university teaching setting do not necessarily want to identify with academe.

    (This is all anecdata, of course. But I do know people whose experiences in grad school and adjuncting were such that they definitely see taking a secondary ed job as leaving SOMETHING, something they very much WANT to leave. And honestly, I do think their lives look very different from that of higher ed profs. Of course, lives of independent school teachers can look very different from lives of public school teachers, too…)

  9. truffula on 30 Aug 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Last spring I served on a panel for a school district as it adopted a new (science) curriculum. As part of that process I had the opportunity to meet with 6th to 12th grade teachers. I was surprised by one high school teacher’s profoundly wrong ideas about the research side of the science he teaches. In general though, I enjoyed talking with a group of folks who think very carefully about pedagogy and learning outcomes and manage to express great creativity within what seems from the outside to be a very rigid structure.

    One comment that stays with me–though I think the speaker misunderstands what we try to do at the (non-R1) public university–was this: “You need to understand that we don’t have the luxury of failing anybody.” I don’t think he meant failing as in a grade of F but as in failing to deliver something for every student. He’s right. While I strive for excellence in the classroom, the sky does not fall if students fail to thrive in my classes.

  10. koshembos on 30 Aug 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    They talk a lot lately about the “American Dream.” A less explicit component thereof is “we are number.” It’s part of our psyche we extend all over, including our “status.” Tanya has to make a living as do I. I am not number and neither is she, or for that matter almost everyone else.

    Teaching at any stage is not a walk in the park. I remember some of my elementary and high school teachers to this day (50 years later) and I admire them. Then taught me a lot. They were very influential.

  11. Nicoleandmaggie on 30 Aug 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    We went to a charter school that had a lot of PhDs teaching (nearby an academic center). The humanities PhDs, especially the historians, were often still academically active in the field– they published, and regularly. The science and math PhDs generally were not. I’m not sure if doing research is necessary for being part of the academy, but it does seem to me like it should be.

  12. Western Dave on 30 Aug 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    I can’t speak for Tanya, but I can speak for me a person who made the same transition a couple of years ago, (okay, a decade ago). Independent schools vary quite a bit, but I’m guessing that Tanya landed at a school similar to mine. I develop my own curriculum, my students rarely take standardized tests of any kind, and I use a lot of college level texts in my class. For example, my US History class (10th grade) uses Keene et. al. Visions of America and is probably closer to a lot of college surveys in terms of content (social constructions of race and gender play a big role, specific court decisions and legislative acts not so much) than a typical US History class, even of the AP variety.

    I present at a conference generally every other year, although the focus has shifted from my research to teaching and increasingly it’s been solely at ASEH although I’ve also presented at AHA (twice) and Western History Association since I started teaching in an Upper School. So in some ways, I haven’t left academia. And I can point to some other folks, Joe Moreau, teacher at an independent in NYC and author of Schoolbook Nation for example, who got their books out while teaching at a K-12. Teaching in an independent doesnt necessarily mean leaving all of academia.

    But here’s the thing. Tanya is probably going to have to coach a sport; or advise three clubs. She’ll be meeting with parents pretty regularly, and doing all kinds of things college professors simply don’t do (I was one, if you want the full laundry list I’ll provide it, but it’s extensive and the word Prom features prominently a couple of times).

    Tanya may be leaving academia in some sense and not in others, but she needs to fully commit to her new job. And to do that, she needs to say goodbye to one aspect of academia – “the social climbing” aspect. Their isn’t a lot of room for climbing up the career ranks in independent schools. Administration teams are generally small, department chairs are usually K-12, and there’s no promotion of the assistant, associate, full professor type. You can’t really move from an SLAC to an R1 K-12. When she says she’s leaving, I’m guessing that’s what she’s leaving, not the life of the mind, or the working with students, or anything like that, it’s the chronic dissatisfaction and insecurity that she’s leaving behind and she’s calling that academia. After her crazy first year, she’ll be back for the rest of it. Or not. Or Some of it. As she sees fit.

  13. Indyanna on 30 Aug 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Technically speaking, the classification “R-1″ hasn’t even existed for about eleven years, as the organization that did the classifying has revamped the system several times along “multi-axial” lines that have some sort of theoretical foundation, but that may have been intended to allow every institution to position itself as being all things at once. I can say from close observation that you can pretty much walk away from doing *any* research at a place that’s classified “Doctoral/Research Intensive,” even *before* the tenure threshhold, with little or no consequence. And conversely, given the overhead requirements for historical research, at least, if you can clear the time–a gigantic “if”–you can do publishable research in a wide range of occupations. What probably most clearly *are* abandoned outside the university are the little signifiers of autonomy; the holding of office hours at the nearby cafe, the self-granted permission to cancel a class or change an assignment, or to dissapear into the library. I went to a very small independent secondary school and even the (few) administrators were mostly teachers. But I don’t think the level of beneficial invisibility was there that defines the work week of college faculties. The sense of being almost a law partner, without quite the big car and house. This will obviously vary greatly between institutions according to culture and resources, but I think there’s a great investment made in the self-direction that would be hard to create at any K-12. All that said, Tanya’s decision certainly doesn’t amount to “abandoning academia.”

  14. Comrade PhysioProf on 30 Aug 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    We had a substantial number of teachers with PhDs at my prep school, and it was fucken awesome for us students.

  15. Anastasia on 30 Aug 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    I think New Kid hits something on the head here when she notes that framing the transition from higher ed to secondary education as “leaving academia” can and sometimes does function as a convenient way to jettison the things one dislikes about higher education.

    There is quite a bit of variation among independent and parochial schools. I work in an independent school and, like Western Dave, I develop curriculum and I do much the same sort of thing I would have done in the courses I adjuncted. The major difference is that my high school students are better prepared and harder working. By a wide margin.

    To the contrary, I do not have to coach a sport and never will. Also while there is a list of things I do that college profs don’t have to do, I don’t mind them. The parents are for the most part lovely folks and chaperoning one dance per year is not going to kill me.

    I would also add that there are opportunities for advancement in my school. There are coordinator positions and lead teachers and all of the administration positions were former teachers. I may have to move to another school to make the transition to administration but I could do it if I wanted to and I have more than enough resources where I am to make that possible. So I don’t really feel like I’m giving up the opportunity to advance. In fact I feel like I have a greater diversity of ways in which to advance.

  16. Western Dave on 30 Aug 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Anastasia,
    I don’t coach either. But I do advise one board (in charge of planning weekly assemblies which means organizing the tech and a bunch of other stuff), and two or three clubs depending on the year. Those are big time sucks in my day. Plus the grading, and proctoring study halls and detention, writing “conduct forms” and cut slips, advising students in a very hands-on way (did you make-up that science test yet? No? Get out your schedule and let’s decide when you are taking that and then write an e-mail to Ms. F and cc me on it telling her when you are taking it etc. etc.).

  17. Anastasia on 30 Aug 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    Yes, I have some of those things and some others that you don’t mention. I don’t mind them. They’re part of this particular job and I find I have plenty of time for them during the day between my planning period and study hall, which is actually pretty decent time to get things done.

  18. Western Dave on 30 Aug 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    I don’t mind them either, I actually like lunch duty. But it was a huge shock to me to do these things when I moved from college teaching to independent schools, and my first year I didn’t even advise clubs or have advisees or homeroom duties or…. (insert a seemingly infinite list of things that don’t have a whole lot to do with history teaching).

  19. Susan on 30 Aug 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    I think this is one of those things that is a “yes and no” problem. Yes, it’s leaving the college level teaching track. But it’s not necessarily leaving research and writing, unless one wants to leave research and writing. Some years ago the AHA did a survey, and some very substantial proportion of History Ph.Ds never did any writing or publishing after they got a couple of article or a book out of the dissertation. For many people, reading history is more fun than writing it. So in that sense it’s not necessarily a different life than at least a significant minority of academics. But it is different — there’s a different culture in schools than in colleges, even though there is quite a range among colleges, and among schools.

  20. nicolec on 30 Aug 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    As a high school history teacher I’d say that the research piece is big. While high school teachers can work on research, it generally isn’t a major part of their job and thus doesn’t happen very often. This means less networking with folks in ones content area (for example, I wouldn’t know the latest and greatest monographs written this year). I’m not surrounded by folks who are thinking about history in new ways and continually engaged in those types of conversations.

    I also think we focus a lot more on skills rather than simply content (though I think college profs are having to do more of this as high school standards drop). As I see it, my job is to prepare students for university classes. I spend a lot of time helping students identify the significance of a given event, person, or idea. I talk to them about how to take notes, how to develop an argument using evidence, and how to read for comprehension. Obviously, I don’t ignore content, but again, I see it as my job to provide the background so that my students are culturally literate in their college classes and thus able to think about events in new ways (ie: how would a Marxist feminist interpret x?)

  21. Charlie on 31 Aug 2011 at 3:24 am #

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. This is my favorite post on here in a while. Though I do have a t-t job, I have long admired PhD and non-PhD holding high school teachers who are active in academia, either as a researcher, reader, or conference attendee. A skilled, enterprising person like Tanya would see that (especially with working a friend with a potential host institution) could continue to get grants, especially those aimed at teaching. Frankly, if active secondary school teachers aren’t part of academia, I don’t want to be part of it either. If there isn’t a constant exchange of ideas about history and about teaching between these two groups of teachers, I think a lot of original research is for naught. Good scholarship should always push beyond the narrow audience of tuition paying 18-22 year olds, and many people without certain kind of t-t job are producing good scholarship.

  22. Anastasia on 31 Aug 2011 at 4:20 am #

    I would second nicolec on teaching skills sometimes over content. We do teach content, of course, but it’s not my job to teach history. My job is to teach students. So my focus is relational, which includes teaching soft skills and reinforcing character instead of just conveying content. That’s different and it’s why advising a club may have nothing to do with teaching history but it has everything to do with my job as a history teacher in a high school.

  23. Historiann on 31 Aug 2011 at 7:19 am #

    I recognize that secondary-school teaching is different from college/university teaching–but I guess I wonder how important or salient that difference is when people with Ph.D.s decide to go Tanya’s route. It’s more than concievable to me that Tanya (and the rest of you in independent or charter or private schools) will have more liberty to do her own thing than adjuncts or even some TT faculty, with the latter having more students, more preps, and fewer resources for research and publication.

    Thanks to all of you HS teachers who have contributed here–I guess it’s a mark of my immersion in traditionally-defined “academia” that I read Tanya’s comments about “giving up” as a confession of a loss, rather than a welcome relief. I hadn’t thought about “giving up” as shedding baggage and bullcrap, although I think that’s an interesting way to look at it. (But if you read her posts, you’ll see that she wasn’t opposed to a TT job–it just wasn’t the only way she could see her career evolving. And BTW, she’s even excited about coaching!)

    Western Dave seems to me a model for professional engagement outside of the college setting. Thanks to good enough cook for pointing out that the marginalization that many K-12 teachers feel comes from the condescention (witting or unwitting) of people who went the traditional academic route.

    As for skills v. content: this is like the old canard of teaching v. research, which most of us here have rejected pretty roundly in previous conversations. How can one teach content without skills? What would that look or sound like, and could you even stay awake through a lesson like that long enough to explain it to me? How can we teach skills without content? The major difference, from my perspective, is that college & university teachers can shift more of the content-learning onto the students than can secondary-school teachers. (That, and the fact that as Truffula says, we also don’t *have* to worry about the washouts–a very big difference.) So, the ratios are different, but at least from my perch at a large public uni, I think I’m working on skills a lot. (This is something that I find myself doing more of, more self-consciously, as the years go by.)

  24. Werner Herzog's Bear on 31 Aug 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Sorry to be late to the party, but I read this on the train during my morning commute to my new job teaching history at an independent school, and have been so busy (in a happy way) with my work that I just now have time to post.

    I am encouraged by my school to continue my research, since they want their teachers to put in practice what they teach. So, I do still feel some connection to the academic world, but like others I find the work to be very, very different for the same reasons. That said, I have a tremendous amount of freedom, and in that regard Historiann, your last comment comparing this work to the lack of freedom offered contingent faculty is spot on. In fact, because of the assessment regime at my old tt job, I actually have more latitude than ever in the classroom.

    FWIW, when I left my tt job to take this one, I did think of it as “leaving academia.” (Shameless plug: http://notesironbound.blogspot.com/2011/08/leaving-academia-was-easier-than.html) I guess it’s because I had dreamed of being a professional historian for a long time, and since so many in my family were high school teachers, I was already aware that what I did in higher ed was very different. Not superior, inferior, better, or worse, just different. If I could have half the impact my mother has had as a teacher in the classroom, whether I’m teaching in a high school or a university, I would think of myself as a great success.

  25. Western Dave on 31 Aug 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Historann,
    Thank you for your kind words. I would say I am one model. The best/historian history teacher I ever worked with was my former department chair Ms. Helen Grady who followed a completely different model of engagement. Daughter of a labor organizer, she became a certified public school teacher, Helen left her career while raising 5 children in Philadelphia during the 60s and 70s. Returning to the classroom in parochial schools (including Jewish schools) once all her children were school age, she eventually enrolled in the World History MA at Temple University which she completed. Helen also attended numerous NEH and other enrichment programs, eventually developing an enormous network of admirers and collaborators. She did research and helped develop curricula in World History and served on numerous AHA committees. She eventually became one of the driving forces behind the creation of the AP World exam.

    When I was still dipping a toe in the job market my first year at Springside School (now SCH Academy), I gave a paper at AHA and hoped to land some interviews. I was still very full of myself because of some teaching prizes and my fancy degrees. Helen told me to go the World History Association and said the magic words “open bar.” Every Professor I met there knew Helen and told me how lucky I was to work with her. Not knowing any of what I wrote above about her at the time, (she somehow failed to mention any of it), I was finally tipped to the fact that I had landed someplace really special and had gained a mentor that knew a little something. Going forward I was a lot less of an ass and a lot more humble and attentive to her advice. It was an important lesson.

  26. Tanya Roth on 31 Aug 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Historiann, you bring up a really good topic, and as the person who wrote the original piece, it’s been interesting to read the comments here.

    From my end, I think the “leaving academia” sense came from…well, the academic culture of my graduate school. Everyone, from those who offered amazing support and advice to those who were less than enthused, seemed to view this as “leaving academia.” I’ve had professors say things like “If you decide to go back to academia in the future…” and heard the same thing from a journal editor while at the Berks. (There’s always this huge presumption that teaching at an independent school is a temporary gig because it’s not academia.)

    I’m a little more than a week into teaching now, and I have to say I’m loving every minute of it. It’s a HUGE change, but I love the energy and the people I’m working with. I’ll be advising Model UN (I think they want me as far from the sports teams as possible…!). I’m teaching 20th century world history and AP US History, plus a section of American Literature. I hope to blog soon about the variations in workload and all that, but that’ll probably be awhile.

    I loved the prospects of everything about academia – teaching, researching, you name it. This decision wasn’t about jettisoning the elements of academia I didn’t like. In some ways, it was a matter of circumstance. I wasn’t willing to stick around on a fellowship for another year (a year I didn’t need – and when you’re coming off an AAUW fellowship, I figured an extra year after that wouldn’t make me look better as a candidate). I wanted a job – a career I could really love. The prospect of spending another year or two or three on the job market seemed like…a really bad idea. Grad school is hard enough on someone’s confidence in themselves – the job market last year didn’t make things any easier. Kudos to those who can manage it for multiple years. I could’ve if I’d had to, but finding this position and getting the offer – it was all such a breath of fresh air.

    (Research, I suspect, will be something I don’t have time for for awhile – but I am presenting at AHA in January and for the local National Archives branch’s new building dedication in October.)

  27. Geoff on 31 Aug 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    Lots of great comments here, just have to add that the best feeling for me after leaving grad school was being able to walk into a bookstore and feeling liberated…I could read WHATEVER I wanted and it wouldn’t have to fit into any research agenda or degree curriculum.

  28. Canuck Down South on 31 Aug 2011 at 11:20 pm #

    After reading this interesting thread, I just went and read Tanya Roth’s posts on her decision. A small bit that leapt out at me was her comment at the start of “Part I” that she’d grown up with academic parents. I noticed this because I’d recently observed that the 4 people who have just “left” my department, and academia, in the past year (2 before and 2 just after defending their PhD disserations), were all children of academic parents. I realize this is a sidenote from the main issue of this thread, but has anyone else noticed this trend, or is it just an peculiarity generated by the small sample size of my department? I’d be interested to hear how growing up with academic parents factored into both joining and “leaving” academia again.

  29. Z on 01 Sep 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    My father is a full professor at an R1. He always said not to be a professor because it is awful. My mother is a housewife without a college degree and it is because of not wanting to upset her that I became a professor: it’s not like business and so on, because it involves the life of the mind, and it’s not work work, like being a teacher.

    How did being the academic’s child make me the semi slacker I am – well academia doesn’t feel like it’s mine. This may be partly because my father was convinced I shouldn’t do it, couldn’t make it, and so on, but it’s also because I feel as though I never left home.

    Now, the reason I was willing, myself, to be a professor was that I saw it as a liberal profession like medicine / law. The reason I like it less than I expected is precisely that it is much more like teaching high school than I had imagined it would be — and teaching high school isn’t something I would do given any options at all.

    Maybe I should rebel by liking to be a professor, thus going against my father’s professed preferences.

  30. Spanish Prof on 01 Sep 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    You absolutely should rebel,Z, and become a kick ass professor. I know it’s in you, buried. Bring it back!!!

  31. Jan on 02 Sep 2011 at 6:25 am #

    My husband teaches history at an independent school; I teach at a public research university. Neither he nor I think that he has “left academia” though some college/university teachers think he has (and some don’t). My husband is ABD; a number of his colleagues have PhDs. Some publish; most stay active, by reading and attending conferences. My husband’s school pays for him and his colleagues to go to the AHA, OAH, etc. I think that teaching in an independent school — where the students are smart and ambitious, the classes are tiny, the facilities are terrific, and the pay is good — is an excellent option for those PhDs (and ABDs) who love teaching and may be committed to a particular city or region.

  32. Historiann on 02 Sep 2011 at 6:46 am #

    It certainly seems like a lot of people who have academic parents go into academia themselves–and it has always seemed to me to be a big advantage in terms of their understanding of academic culture & what’s expected of them. (Maybe that’s my assumption because I don’t have academic parents.) I work with three men whose fathers were/are scholars, and it has been a surprise to me to see scholarship (like law and medicine, and the the clergy before them) become a patrilineal inheritance. But Z’s experience offers another perspective from the baggage-and-bullcrap side.

    Thanks to all of you who have shared your experiences–WHB, Jan, Western Dave, etc.–like everything, prep school/independent school teaching is what you make of it. Because of this conversation, I’ll never assume that anyone teaching secondary school with a Ph.D. has “given up.”

  33. Tanya Roth on 04 Sep 2011 at 8:49 am #

    I’m confused about how it’s been interpreted that I have “academic parents”. They’re academic in the sense that they both have master’s degrees. However, they’ve never worked in academia – except for the year my mom adjuncted in a community college (aside from that, she’s been a stay-at-home mom for pretty much the past 2.5 decades, and dad was always in industry).

  34. Historiann on 04 Sep 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Having parents who have postgraduate degrees puts you in a pretty selective cohort, Tanya, but I agree: your parents are not academics.

    I guess part of the misunderstanding is my fault, as we elided your experience with that of some commenters here & other colleagues.

  35. Paul on 04 Sep 2011 at 11:02 am #

    As a long time (“career”) adjunct in the Philadelphia area who teaches at a cc, an arts university, and one of the more prestigious institutions of higher learning in the area who teaches courses at every level of the curriculum, (i.e. not just fyw) I not only admire Ms. Roth’s decision, (not to mention organizational skills) I’m utterly envious. I would give my eye teeth for a position like hers. Sadly, whenever I have inquired about transitioning from what I’m doing to secondary teaching, the first wave of reaction is a round of snickering, sort of the “surely you jest” type. When they realize I’m not jesting and am completely serious, the snickering turns to a pained expression on their faces as their heads begin to sway from side to side, “no, no, no, just no …” And when I say ‘wait, 5 minutes ago when we were talking about strategies for teaching Frederick Douglas, you said you were going to “borrow” my idea, and now I’m not qualified?’

    I guess this is all to say that I’ve found jobs teaching high school English as elusive as elusive as tt positions, and in some ways more so. So again to Ms. Roth, kudos!

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