A Balancing Act
I was in the midst of a divorce. Panicked, I needed to figure out how to get myself out of impending financial doom before I hit the bottom. I could always teach – an art major would need an MFA to even be considered for secondary education. I didn’t want to go after a primary teaching credential. That would involve GRE exams and God knows I failed miserably on my own SATs. I don’t take tests well. I’m not mathematically inclined, nor do I have the logic sense. (Obviously, you are probably thinking, if I took out that kind of money for loans.) Anyway, I preferred the idea of teaching college age and older students because they would be more mature and serious about learning (ha ha).
My mother was an art professor for over 35 years. I could do it too. She made good money – reality alert for me – the glory days of academia with tenure are over. After I got the degree I figured that out. I applied to over 40 full time positions all over the country. For every full time position open probably 400+ MFAs applied. The other candidates were active in gallery shows. They had been teaching. They had received grants and fellowships. What did I have to my name? I had had books published and thought that might give me some appeal. As I wrote in my introduceyourself post, it would have been bad to pick up and move all my kids to Ohio if I had been chosen.
But I like teaching. I moved back to California from Florida in 2011 to start my first drawing class at our community college. I sort of assumed I would work my way into a full time position. After all, this was the school my mother had spent all her years teaching every art related class under the sun. I knew the Dean and the Chair. They liked my work and hinted at this possibility in the future.
I slowly began to see how it all worked. It became clear that the full timers were on their way out. The few who were there had been for years. And administration has figured out a clever secret – they don’t have to pay benefits to adjunct faculty – meaning those who come in to teach only one class. The community college system is filled with harried adjunct instructors. They scurry around from campus to campus trying to make ends meet, teaching full time if they are lucky, but at different schools so they don’t get health insurance and other sacred perks. It’s a cruel twist of fate. I had worked so hard for my MFA. It took me five years. And I was a mother trying to raise four young children. I thought I had it figured out.
But guess what? Life didn’t turn out that way. I have my MFA. – that piece of paper that proves to the world I am competent at what I do. Some would ask why I need that to qualify my abilities. I don’t. But what I needed was that training. The degree is so much more to me than a notch in my belt. It represents hardcore learning. I mastered techniques that I never would have by watching YouTube tutorials for free. This was a rigorous program of study and worth every penny to me. We read so much about investing in ourselves. But I’m sure very few would recommend getting into such high debt for a degree that is no longer as highly esteemed as it used to be. I don’t care. I am proud I made it through. I understand perspective! My drawings and paintings have improved so much from the grueling hours I put into my studies – I couldn’t have achieved my level of accomplishment in any other way. I needed the discipline course work. I needed the endless piles of assignments. I needed to curl up in a ball and cry when I had three giant presentations to give and not enough hours to complete them due to my own parenting challenges. All these things made me stronger and able to do some pretty kick-ass work.
Maybe it was okay to not teach full time.
Yes it cost me a fortune. Would I do it again? Yes. Because I believe that I can use my work to connect with others. And it will be a much more valuable contribution.
I will pay it all off. I know that and am committed to doing so. But I could not let that hinder my chances of getting my work to the place I wanted it to be. That would have cost me much more in the long run.