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Some of us are lucky:The privilege of free time

07 Dec

I titled this “Some of us are lucky”, but you have to wonder about that. I believe it was Branch Rickey who said “Luck is the residue of determination”, perhaps we are just determined.

Every job I have had has been easier than the one before it. This is relatively ironic since I am , in the final analysis something of a workaholic. Teaching junior high and high school was easy, it is easy as long as you like learning yourself and like your students, a situation I found myself in for my tenure as a high school and junior high school teacher. Despite the martyrdom attitudes of many current public school teachers, teaching is not a hard gig. You do not do physical labor, you are not exposed to the elements and in most districts you are not in physical peril. It can be emotionally and psychologically draining, but what job cannot? Nor is it dreadfully poverty inducing. Almost all school systems offer good benefits, retirement, health care, dental plans, etc. Average teacher salaries in Ohio are $55,000 according to internet information. Teachers usually have a contract for 183 days. That means that they make $300 and change a day. If they worked 240 days, much more common for other workers, they would earn $72,000 a year. Not exactly chump change.So public school teaching is a good job with great benefits, decent salary and incomparable rewards from the students themselves.

I left public school teaching to go to graduate school. Because there were no job openings in Xenia, at least the one that was open was filled by a friend of the principal, I found myself looking elsewhere. Little did I know that was a fabulous door opening to much wider horizons. I was fortunate enough to be tapped—by a friend, the nepotism needle swings many ways– to be the director of a student retention program at a local college. The program was a pilot sponsored by the Ohio Board of Regents and was truly a walk in the park. The program had not had a director before, only counselors and support staff. The OBR decided they needed directors, so I was hired.

I had never supervised anyone beyond a group of high school students and had some trepidation, but who was I to turn down more money and the chance to be the boss?My staff ( I would never, ever call them that when we were working together, my theory is I did not own them, I also would not say they worked for me, I did not sign their checks) anyway, they were wonderful. All females, all highly competent and all dedicated to making sure students finished their college education. All I had to do was oversee the budget, see students who were in academic difficulty and sit back and rake in compliments for the results we got. In justice to myself I took to heart the advice given to me by my vice president at the time who recommended one stand in front of one’s staff when they were throwing bricks and behind them when they were throwing roses.

We got along wonderfully well and they were so loyal to me it was embarrassing. But, having gotten a taste of higher education I wanted to get my “union card”, the Ph.D. I reluctantly made the decision to leave them and go over to faculty, which could be combined with my doctoral studies more easily.  College teaching was easier than high school teaching. After all, I only taught three classes and I was only on campus MWF.I even picked up adjunct positions at two other institutions, a small liberal arts college–Antioch and an HBCU–Central State University.  ( I really did not plan to teach at CSU, but my house in Ohio is across the street from the college and they put a guilt trip on me as an alumna when they had trouble filling a slot and students were not going to be able to graduate because they needed the classes to finish their degree) I taught at Clark State on MWF, CSU on Tuesday and Thursday and Antioch on Saturdays. I had a fun variety of students, mostly white, rural commuter students at Clark, mostly black residential students from urban environments at CSU and wealthy mostly white northeastern students at Antioch. It was never boring, nor was it ever hard. I enjoyed them all and still managed to write two editorial columns a month for the Dayton Daily News.

Then the Library of Congress Research Fellow opportunity came along and I was able to take advantage of that. The NEH and the Library of Congress paid for me to come to DC 14 times during the 2002-2003 academic year to work on a paper on Benjamin Banneker.

Wow, the things I have gotten to do. Why was I able to get all these fabulous opportunities? Because I had jobs that gave me sufficient free time to do other things. High school teaching, even advising extra curriculars, which I did, gave me time to raise our kids and make a home and still have friends and other interests. College teaching encouraged me to explore things further, both in academe and out of it and to interact with a diverse group of people that opened my eyes to other possibilities, ways of being and viewpoints and the Library of Congress taught me that I could, indeed, negotiate the broader world beyond Xenia, Ohio on my own.When my current college came calling in the fall of 2002 if I had not had the experience of being  in DC on my own for several weeks earlier that year I would not have even considered moving out of state.

My current job, at a Research 1 institution in the Southeast, is easiest of all, because it gives me the opportunity to interact with people from all over campus, faculty, staff and students and from all over the world. It also gives me the opportunity to work for something I think is important and to do it in myriad enough ways that I rarely have the same day in a week, let alone in a row! I get to sit on dissertation committees, conduct research on campus climate, plan workshops and help plan conferences, just to name a few.

This week for example, I have meetings with two groups that I sit on boards of directors for, I have to make recommendations for grant applications for a fund that I administer, I have two meetings with students to discuss projects they are engaged in for their studies, I am going to a nearby state school to conduct mock interviews for their graduate students, I am meeting a principal from a nearby school that I have agreed to be a keynote speaker for in January and I am the guest speaker at a Women of Color retreat for women who work with domestic violence victims.

Today I received an invitation to write a book chapter for a new work on diversity. I will no doubt agree to do it, because I can figure out the time to do so. I have enough control over my own schedule and do not consider virtually anything I do as work, it is what I like to do, what I think should be done and the only issue I have occasionally ( not often thank heavens) is getting other folks to agree with me.

So, we need to keep in mind that much of what we accomplish is possible because we have the time to do it. Not because we are particularly smart or harder working or more worthy. We are lucky. I have never once in my life felt like it was a burden to go to work. I have had things happen at work that displeased me, of course, but the work itself, teaching, research, assessment, speaking was, and is, a privilege. Thank goodness I am lucky enough to have such a life. I only hope we can make American a more equitable place so that our children in school now can get a good education and find themselves with time to spare so that they can let their minds wander down paths to new frontiers and take us all with them.

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