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?