February 25, 2015

Getting Ready

Yesterday, I blogged about being prepared for whatever the Lord has in mind for me regarding "next steps." Recently, I have been feeling His push toward moving me toward a new way, a new place, and a new life. I have this strong sense of change in my life, and this feeling, and coupled with the desire I have had for several years to be settled, seems to be coalescing now with what I am experiencing in my life. It is weird, it is scary, and it is overwhelming to think that the Lord might be doing this, might be working in my life to move me from this life (my current life) over to that life (my future life). Let me explain...

Last year, around this time, I was teaching adjunct at GCU. In fact, I was teaching the exact same course (ENG 356 Short Story), and I was experiencing the freedom from my former daily routine as a Communications Analyst. I loved the freedom of teaching adjunct, and I had high hopes that this "experience" would be the start of a life long love of teaching college. I loved my first class -- I was enjoying my students, enjoying teaching, and enjoying a "different" career. I had spent the previous three years working for Fortune 500 companies. I liked the 8-5 normal schedule, but with school (Mercy and Regent), the grind of the drive and the workload was taking its toll. I wanted freedom to sleep in, to have days off during the week, and to generally plan my schedule semester by semester. Plus, I thought the "idea" of having my entire summer off sounded really, really sweet! Of course, what looks good from a distance isn't always as appealing as it is up close. Working a flexible schedule is great, don't get me wrong, but it does have its downside.

First, teaching adjunct is so flexible that you never know from semester to semester how many classes you will actually teach. You may ask for three and end up with one. You also are paid by the hour so if you miss a class, your pay is deducted for that week. There are no benefits so no sick time. You are contracted to work for 15 weeks and it is expected that you will work for each of those weeks.

Second, the idea of having days off is really great. Unless you are a full-time student and then you find your days off are school days, work from home days, and days where you may be sitting at the computer for 10-12 or even 14 hours. Yes, the demands are grueling when you are a full-time student and are teaching full-time.

Third, there is the blessed summer off period, which sounds super wonderful, but really means that you are living without any pay for four-five months. In my case, GCU is out for summer by the end of April. School doesn't begin in the fall until August. This means I have no income for May, June, July and part of August. My income needs run about $2k per month -- so 3.5 missing months -- means a whole lotta of nothing (almost $7.5K of need that has to be made up through other sources). Thankfully, the Lord has provided financial aid and my tax refund that helps to make up the balance. Still, it is getting more difficult for me to not have income over those months (bills still have to be paid).

Last, teaching is a wonderful career. I love aspects of it, and I enjoy mentoring students. However, it is a grueling career. Yes, between the actual hours spent in the classroom, to office hours, to grading papers, it is an underpaid endeavor that drains you physically and emotionally.

I love the fact that I have been able to teach. I love the fact that I get to be a Professor at a large University. This is a dream come true for me. I have wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a child. I wanted to teach college since 1991, and here I am almost 24 years later, living that dream. Unfortunately, being a single woman and an adjunct instructor are not the best fit. I realize this now, more so than before (when I was working full-time). I was enamored by the desire to teach, to be a teacher, and while I accepted the downside of teaching, I didn't really put the numbers together in order to see the practical side of things. In practicality, teaching, unless you are full-time faculty is not an income producing work. It makes great part-time work, and if you are blessed to be married, then it could be a good second job for a family that already is set comfortably with a good stream of income.

As I look at it now, and I am being realistic, what I see is mounting student loan debt coupled with the inability for me to provide more than the minimum requirements each month. Yes, the Lord has provided exactly what I need, and for that, I am thankful. My income was much higher when I worked full-time. I had benefits, and I had the comfort of knowing that every month there was more income than outgo. I know that my time as an adjunct instructor was fortuitous because without this experience, my seeking full-time work in higher education would have been more difficult for me.

It is difficult to say this but I really feel as though my teaching time has come to an end. I know my colleagues would say to me "Oh, Carol, don't give up! You are a great teacher!" Yes, I love them for saying this to me, but the truth is that all of my colleagues are married. They all have husbands that provide good incomes for their families. They work because they love working. They are getting their PhDs too, but they are not working because they have to work, but because they choose to do so. I am a single woman, a mom, trying to care for my family, and while I have been blessed to experience teaching, right now, I don't see how I can manage my finances through another summer. I will, of course, because the Lord will provide. I just don't see this as a viable plan long term. The Lord may choose to provide a full-time teaching position to me, but right now, I am not seeing those opportunities crop up for me, at the least, not here in Phoenix.

Then there is the whole deal with my parents. Yes, we share a home, and right now, it has been a good thing. My Dad asked me today, well he questioned me today, about my "chosen career." His questioning made me feel like he was saying to me that it wasn't "good enough" or that perhaps it was short sighted on my part to choose it. I know my parents are proud of my efforts, but to my Dad, money is what he sees as lacking, and when he looks at his needs, and he looks at my income, I think he sees the writing on the wall as much as I do. He knows that I cannot keep up with the demands unless I work full-time.

So what does all this mean?

I think it means that I have come to accept the fact that the Lord is closing or has closed off teaching as a viable means of income. Personally, I am relieved because while I love teaching and working with students (I mean that sincerely), there is just too much work involved with teaching and it drains me, absolutely drains me. I am so tired every single day. I come home tired, and I wake up tired. I spend my mornings doing the least amount of work just so I can rest. I am blessed this semester that my prep work is completed (I am teaching courses from previous years). I see the hard road ahead, and frankly, I am worn out now. I just do not want to walk on this path...

Then there is my parents attitude and their concern about my choice of career. Today, my Dad said to me "Oh, you are not bored already? Not in your chosen career?" I made a snarky remark (yes, I can be snarky when I get tired) that I am just doing what work is available to me. I am tired of defending myself, of defending my choices, my career, my aspirations. My Mom said the other day that perhaps I should find another job, any job that pays more money. I know my parents are worried about my finances, and I know that they are worried about their finances. It is just that I am responsible for so much right now, and I am doing the very best I can with what I have to handle. I know the Lord knows this, I know He knows what is best for me.

I wanted to teach so bad. I remember praying about this desire way back in 2013. I was set to give up on teaching, to never experience it, because it seemed like the door was closed to me. I had been applying for teaching positions for several years, but no one would give me a second look. Then GCU was needing instructional assistants, and I needed a job change to accommodate my courses at Regent. I felt the Lord saying "OK" and I applied. I was hired, and I started a career as a teaching assistant. The money was not enough, but the possibility for teaching adjunct was right there, right around the corner. After about two months, I quit that position, and I took a prestigious position working as a Business Analyst. It paid great money, had great benefits, and held the promise of a great career. My folks were ecstatic because it meant really good money for me. I lasted three weeks before I caved and returned to GCU. I felt that I hadn't given teaching enough time, enough time to really know if it was a good fit for me or not.

It was the Friday before Thanksgiving, and I was a mess. I was bored in my new job, and I felt that I was in the wrong place career wise. I asked the Lord for the opportunity to go back to GCU so I could give teaching a second try. I wanted to know what it was like and to make the decision whether it was the best job for my skills and abilities. The Lord graciously opened a door for me to return to GCU. The following January, He brought me to GCU and I have been there since. I remember saying to Him: Lord, I don't want to have regrets. I don't want to say "I wished I had been a teacher." Well, now I can safely say that I have been a teacher. I enjoyed parts of it. I loved working with students, especially one-on-one, but the grind of preparing lessons is too much. And, here is the kicker. I talked with some of my colleagues who work full-time as Professors. They average 5 courses per semester. Then some teach adjunct at another college just to make up for the low pay. I have two colleagues who both teach 6-7 courses a semester. When I heard that news, I about fell off my chair. I am teaching three this semester. Last semester I had four. With teaching and school work, there is no way I could handle that many courses each semester. Shoot me now!

I didn't realize that to teach full-time might mean this many courses per semester. I started to think about my physical needs, standing all day long, emoting, teaching, etc. I can barely get through my days now -- how would I be able to get through them when I have more courses, more papers to grade, more classes to prep? I honestly do not see it as a good thing. Sure, the Lord would sustain me. Still, unless He calls me to it, I cannot see me doing it. That is the hard light of truth...

My Decision

I started this blog post with the title of "Getting Ready." My intention was to write about the plans the Lord had for me, but instead I ended up writing about my feelings on my current career choice. Interesting turn of events to say the least! I think perhaps the Lord guided me to write out my feelings so that I could see the truth in black and white (or pink and black, LOL!) I feel so wimpy right now, whiny, and like a complainer. I am blessed, thoroughly and wonderfully blessed. Yet, I am dissatisfied in my career. Then there is the guilt -- I feel so fortunate to have this work -- so whenever I complain, I feel ungrateful to the Lord for His provision.

I hate to make a career change again (how many times now?) but I do see that it is unavoidable. Here's why...

  • I live modestly. I used to live frugally, but the Lord has graciously provided enough income for me to live comfortably. This means with my current debt load (and I have some debt), I need $2K per month to cover all my expenses. This is my must have amount. Anything over this amount adds fluff to the month and covers unknown needs. Right now, I am living on this amount because I am teaching 3 and not 4 classes. Last semester, my income was closer to $2400 per month. This semester it is right at my "must have" amount.
  • I live close to the line, so to speak. This means that should something happen, a big expense or need, I do not have money in savings or available credit to cover the need. When I divorced my  husband, this was the one thing I asked of the Lord -- to never been this close to the line again. I lived this way for 25 years, and the stress of never having enough caused me to suffer greatly.
  • I am able to earn far more than this in other lines of work. When I started at UOPX, my take home pay (net) was $2400 per month. At CVS, it was closer to $2700, and at Nursewise, it was right about $3300. In short, in corporate work or other administrative types of positions, I normally earn anywhere from $40-60K per year. By comparison, adjunct teaching gross pay is somewhere around $15-18K. Full-time faculty, depending on where you live in the US can run from $30-80K. The higher salary is for teachers with PhDs and years of experience. Starter teachers like myself earn around $36K per year. 
  • I need to build retirement, savings and investments for my future. I cannot do this on this level of pay. Clearly, I cannot plan for a future when I earn this level of pay. Moreover, I have mounting school debt and right now I cannot even begin to pay back these loans.
  • I need a job that fits me well, doesn't stress me or tire me out. I am in moderate health, no major health issues, but still I do have some chronic conditions that take their toll. As such, I need a job that works with my conditions and not against them. I feel that I am wrung out, washed up, and unable to take much more of the wear-and-tear of teaching. I am thankful, so very thankful, but I feel that I need to do something else, something different soon (very soon!)
So my decision is this - as of right now - I see that the Lord has opened a door for me to pursue a non-faculty position at a major University. The job is a good fit for my education, experience, and abilities. Will it be "the position?" I don't know. I hope so, but I don't know. What I do know is that should this position come to me, as in they call me to interview me, then I will know for certain that this is the path the Lord has opened for me to follow. I also applied for a teaching position, but now that I have considered that choice, I have decided not to follow that path. I cannot teach full-time, so I need to focus on non-faculty positions in higher education. If I cannot find a non-faculty position, then I will begin to look for professional work in Marketing and Communications. I would prefer to stay in education because it aligns with my research interests and I would be able to continue to study what I am most interested in -- Rhetoric. However, I would consider another kind of position, should the Lord show me where to go.

What about my parents? My son? My future life?

As of now, I feel confident that the Lord has all of these individuals well in hand. He knows what He wants me to do, where He wants me to go, and what kind of life He has in mind for me. I am opening up my hand, letting go of the reins, and allowing the Lord to move me wherever He chooses today. Should it be in Alabama, so be it. Should it be elsewhere, so be it. I have to let go so that He can do His work in me. My prayer is to go where my heart wants to go, and I do feel that this is the Lord's will for me; however, I need to let the details go so that He can do His work, and have His way in all things.

My family will be cared for and their lives are in His hands. My life is also in His hands, and I trust and I rest in His security and provision. Selah!

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