honesty 2.1


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I’ve found myself buying a lot of fridge magnets lately (it would be a lot cheaper if I used my pen and notebook, then made a magnet at home). Yesterday, (which was Monday – it’s now actually Thursday afternoon) I purchased a new fridge magnet on a day that was foggy, with images vague, outlines hazy. Reminded me of saying that a foggy road lay ahead between accepting “not good enough” or resisting it. The magnet said: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

What follows is another bamble; it’s not happy, nor inspiring. It’s not quite the pity party it sounds like. It’s me being honest again. First, I do want to say that I am really appreciative all the kind and encouraging comments I received after my first honesty posting. If some of my answers seemed “flippant,” I was me trying to introduce some of my warped sense of humour into what was a pretty heavy blog. What follows is me being honest again — if the content bothers anybody, I do apologize in advance. I just feel like my first honesty posting needs a follow-up. I had actually planned another Honesty 2, but that one will have wait and be Honesty 3.

I haven’t stopped crying (almost all of Monday and Tuesday; and a bit of Wednesday while I did the laundry); not because I’d been listening to the “not good enough whispers,” BUT because of remembering (after writing the first honesty piece) the times I was good enough, but personality, office politics, sexism/misogyny, who-knows-what made me not good enough anymore.

For example, I was good enough to teach the class, mark the papers, design the courses and assignments, lead the seminars, get good evaluations from the students, give them interesting, imaginative projects to do that despite themselves, they got interested and excited about the assignment. I was one of the few faculty members who could get along with even the most difficult of the teaching assistants. While I taught there, double the number of students decided to take my field as a major. I gave extra help to students who needed it to get up to college speed (many were the first in their families to ever have gone to university). As many were non-traditional students, I was as flexible and accommodating as I could be. With such an increase in interest, (another contract facility member was doing innovative and exciting things too), the university finally decided it now had the money to make the position I’ve been doing under contract for 3 years permanent as well as the same for the other contract worker.

A real, full time teaching job; the possibility of staying in one place after contract teaching; of maybe someday getting tenure; having the security to try even more innovative and exciting teaching methods and student projects; time to do more writing and research; being able to afford a vacation; and maybe even some day a house. Not being made head of the department; not being asked to give papers and interviews; not accolades; just some stability; a bit more money; maybe someday tenure and the chance to do what I loved best, did best: teach, work with students, research, and write.

Of course, I did what I was told to do: apply for the job – after all I’d already been doing it (with fine personnel evaluations as well as good ones from the students as well). One day I was good enough, the next day, the list of who is being interviewed and when goes up, and my name isn’t on the list. Despite being told over and over what a good job I was doing; how I was really getting students interested in the subject, each spring encouraged to continue to design courses and assignments as innovative and different as I had. Being told I blew the department away during your first job interview by my poise, intelligence, and ability to switch topics, answer difficult questions, say when I didn’t know the answer, rather than bluff my way through.

Student gossip travels fast and far (and unheard by most professors), so they knew before I did (almost) that I wasn’t on the list of interviewees, and hadn’t been asked, in any capacity, back the following year. If a few students hadn’t come to my office to try to cheer me up, I wouldn’t have known about the lengths many students went to try and keep me around. They started writing letters to the head of the department (of which he never made me aware)the minute they heard my contract wasn’t going to be renewed. When the university announced my contract job was going to become a permanent one, they all assumed it would be offered to me; why not? When word got out that I wasn’t even on the interview list, more letters were sent to the head of the department, and a few things were said in some classes. In my classes, when asked about the situation, I would only comment that while it was true that my time with the university would be finished at the end of term, I was sure the department would hire a good teacher, someone believed in fairness, student innovation, enjoyed teaching.

Although I avoided the department if I could on interview days (unless I was holding a class or a student needed to see me), I finished off the term with the same work ethic, same intensity, same spirit I had begun it. Sure, I could have slacked off, done a half-a***d job, but my students deserved better than that. I remember one evening, standing in the hallway looking at the list of interviewees. There were a couple of names I had never heard of in any capacity – not seen at conferences, give a paper, or have a publication, so I could form no opinion. Some I wasn’t too impressed with after reading their work, or seeing a lecture or listening to a paper given. Then there were the others, I knew personally were both not good teachers and not good scholars – I hoped for my students’ sakes, one of them didn’t get the position (one did). I stood in the dim light of the darkened hallway, reading the list without envy or jealously, but just wondering why them and not me. By the way, the head of the department either never had the politeness or excuse me the b****s to tell me why my name wasn’t on the list; what these people had that got them interviewed and me not.

There are end of the term evaluations, always filled out anonymously, by students that analyze the professor, the course, course content, fairness in marking, etc. Like a personnel review. These forms remain anonymous by having students colour in a square, circle a number, etc., the theory being a student will be more “honest” it their handwriting can’t be “held against” them. A member of student council goes to each class (with the professor, obviously out of the room!), hands out the forms, and gathers them up once completed and seals them in large brown envelopes. Next, all the packages go to the appropriate department head who opens and reads the results. In some departments, a small select number of faculty also have access to other faculty member’s reviews. I had to wait longer than the other members of the department to receive mine. (Other faculty members had already thrown theirs, unopened, into the garbage). I used the creative/constructive criticisms from these and self-generated surveys during the term to work on areas that needed improvement.

I expected the usual assortment of reports: the irony that the very things that some students find are the best about the class or the teacher are the very same things others find are the worst! Most are pretty middle of the road – really like some aspects, dislike others, are neutral about other items. When I opened my evaluations, I sat, crying, in my office for hours. Not because I was sad I was leaving, not because I was feeling sorry for myself for not even being given a chance to get the job; not upset that these were the last set of reviews I was ever going to get. I sat crying because I was so moved by what the students had written on the reviews.

Almost all were signed; almost every student WANTED me to know how they felt. They wanted me to know how sorry they were to see me go; how they hoped I’d found another teaching job; telling me I was the best teacher they had ever had (in person, I would have quipped – only had a few teachers, then, eh?). Some even addressed their comments to the head of the department about mistakes, and switching majors.

So, one day I was good enough to write up and mark the final exams and submit students’ final grades, the next I was only good enough to clear out my office so a “real” teacher could take over. I hadn’t played the “right game,” played by the “right rules,” got the “right people” on my side through whatever means you do that; the folks on my side were just the students who I thought universities were all about anyway. By the way, the other contract employee, well liked by the students, too, did receive an interview, but wasn’t hired for the job he had been doing.

This isn’t a pity party for me, though the above makes it sound like it. I know that many others have had to deal with the same things: the promotion not achieved; the recognition or thanks not received; the interview not arranged; the raise not given; the prize not won. These folks may also have struggled with the “not good enoughs” when they were more than good enough! That they should have got or achieved whatever it was they deserved and didn’t receive. I hope, unlike me, that they either got over these “not good enough” moments and were able to move on, letting go of the hurt, the tears, and the pain, perhaps used it to their advantage as lessons learned. Or even better yet, stopped having these moments –and they began to get the recognition, the promotion, the stability, the whatever it was they deserved.

There are other variations of the same theme I won’t bother or bore you with. I’ve blogged about some of the previously. I’ve never looked for being singled out; for adulation; for big bucks; for different treatment than anyone else; for special prizes. What I’ve wanted is some stability; some fairness; some recognition for all the hard and good work I’ve done; the chance to have enough money to go on a vacation; to be able to actually afford to own a little house. For once, be the one “good enough” to continue to have the job I’d been doing with good personnel reports, and fine colleague rapport. Not be the one forced to resign due to misogyny; lost out on a job because of a blind eye turned by the department, the university, and the journal board to the situation. The offender not only kept his job, but was able to blame all his problems and issues with the job on me (rather than his work ethic, old-boy network, and lack of vision) because I was no longer there to defend myself.

Not that I’m that so great, special, or intelligent that I should always win the prize. Not that I believe the world owes me. Not that I don’t make mistakes, do screw-ups, after all I am definitely human. I believe that every project, very job is worth doing well, and I hate it when I’m asked to or forced to do a half-a**ed job. There have been times I know I could have done better, performed to a higher standard, played office politics, finished reports or articles sooner, ratted out other employees rather than cover for their mistakes; produced a better finished product or met a deadline sooner. On rational days, I don’t blame all my failures, all my “not good enoughs” on myself nor on others.

But I do wonder what fairness feels like. What being the lucky one feels like. What success feels like. Sure, I want to finish writing my mystery novel – it’s been inside me and scrawled in notebooks for a long time. In one of our many moves, I lost the first draft of another mystery novel I was writing. I’ve never able to really recreate it, try as I might. I think it was a much better one than I’m working on now. I know my novel probably will never be published. Sure, I’ll go through the turmoil of not being good enough again (in the case of novel writing, that’s IS probably the case! many more writers than published writers) I joke about book signings and talk show rounds, but the book is something that lives inside me that wants to come out. Maybe no will ever see the manuscript but me.

So you see my struggle between accepting “not being good enough” isn’t just about demons whispering “you never have been and you never will, be good enough for whatever it is you want or try to do”, or feeling sorry for myself; it’s for knowing that sometimes I was good enough, but still couldn’t win. There’s nothing wrong with landing in the stars, that’s fine. Somehow, sometimes, even the stars seem beyond my reach.

This is something that I honestly wanted to say; that the “not good enoughs” and hurt aren’t all figments of my dark demons’ imaginations. Not all the remembories of the sad lonely little girl. Hard to let go when these sorts things seem to always follow you around. Perhaps it’s harder to let go when you’ve never actually been shooting for the moon, just hoping to land amid the stars.

It takes getting used to when, regularly, one day you’re good enough, and then – for no apparent or explained reason – the next you’re not. It can lead to hurt, to tears, to pain, to fear, to self-doubt to many other emotions including anger, hostility, “out-to-prove-yourself-right-and-the-others-wrong, and envy. I don’t know if experiencing these emotions makes it any easier or more difficult to fight or accept the “not quite good enoughs” on my foggy road; my choice may yet be made FOR me not BY me.