Making a Break

How to Leave the Academy, the burning bridge version

  • At the end of the semester, right after the final day of your final class, leave
  • Do not say goodbye.
  • Accept your department’s invitation to be a visiting scholar in order to continue having access to your email and library account, but don’t ever return to campus or contribute in any way as a visiting scholar.
  • Never talk to your colleagues again. Not because you dislike them but because the experience of having your passion for teaching killed by an institution, and in some ways, your department, is too painful to be reminded of.

Why I Left the Academy, the “it’s complicated” version

  • Its populated with a lot of arrogant assholes, intellectual snobs and insecure jerks. I didn’t want to turn into one (or all) of those
  • Broken down by demoralizing job process
  • Needed to restore my confidence and belief in my self and my abilities that had been lost after repeatedly being made to feel like I wasn’t smart enough and didn’t really belong
  • Because other things were happening in my life at the same time that made it hard to tolerate the assholes and the toxic environment, like dealing with the slow and painful death of my beloved mother or coping with the tantrums and demands of two young children who, at ages 5 and 8, hadn’t quite grown into their awesomeness yet
  • Because I wanted to and I could
  • Horrible at multi-tasking and balancing between roles as parent, teacher, student and person
  • Not good at spending grant money or turning in receipts and don’t really like traveling to academic conferences that seem mostly pointless, which are supposed to be some of the “perks” of academic life
  • It has too many toxic values, some which are toxic to everyone, others which are specifically toxic to me
  • Because I run away from things that I believe are bad for me and that I don’t want to do anymore
  • Soul sucking faculty meetings and super-sized classrooms
  • Wanted to write, do more experiments and learn new things
  • The increasingly diverse population of students needed less people like me (white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class, from a highly educated family) and more people that looked like them and that understand their experiences
  • College is ridiculously expensive and my teaching practices are too irresponsible and dangerous to be worth that kind of money
  • Had very few mentors and no one to talk me out of it
  • I am brave…or not brave enough
  • I am smart…or really stupid
  • I give up too easily…or I refuse to ever give up

What to do when you stop being a teacher, some thoughts

  • Become a student again. Learn new things. Learn old things in new ways
  • Write
  • Read random books unrelated to your areas of interest. Lots of YA fiction
  • Watch a tv show without taking notes on how you could use it in your next class discussion
  • Experiment, be curious, take risks
  • Set aside the materials of your teaching existence. Forget about them for a few years. Then, when you’re ready, remember them again.
  • Do you ever really stop being a teacher?

Some subversive ways to respond to, “what do you do?” after you have spent years doing the really hard work of being okay with leaving academia and not having an official title or a “proper”/real job

  • I make trouble
  • I tell stories
  • I’m an undisciplined, ex-academic
  • I write

How to Confront the Questions that Haunt You

  • Push yourself to feel their force
  • Ruminate
  • Be brave
  • Breathe
  • Cry
  • Laugh
  • Break (it) down
  • Doubt yourself
  • Get lost in the questions, but not too lost. Writing lists can help.
  • Stop doubting yourself
  • Take a “fuck the haters” moment
  • Seek truth not facts
  • Be open to revision
  • Write about it
  • Go for a run or a swim
  • Laugh some more
  • Be persistent

2 Lessons I’ve Learned the hard way, which seem obvious but had never occurred to me until I learned them.

Lesson 1: Don’t ever google a random image of a cow chewing and use it in an online entry about the importance of rumination in critical thinking on your academic blog. Even though only about 50 people will ever look at that post and it is clearly a blog intended for sharing academic research, you will be required to pay the image company over $700 for violating copyright.

How to React, One Approach:

  • Utter to yourself “WTF?! Are you shitting me?” when contacted by image company.
  • Panic as you wonder how many other images you have on your blog and what that might cost you. Remove image and the one other image, out of almost 100 images on 300+ posts, that you find on your blog.
  • Talk with a lawyer and find out that you might be able to get them to lower the fine but that you still need to pay it.
  • Get pissed off.
  • Pay the fine.
  • Resolve to use only screenshots and your own images.
  • Learn about copyright.
  • Loathe Getty images forever.

Lesson 2: Don’t trust that your content will always be there because one day you will try to link to your seventeen course blogs and discover that your former university has migrated to another platform and made all of your work only accessible through the wayback archive which is difficult to search and can’t seem to find four or five of your earliest blogs.

How to React, One Approach:

  • Freak out because all of the work that you did seems to be gone and so many of the links to your lectures, course blog entries, syllabi and comments embedded in dozens of posts on your blog and your other sites are now dead.
  • Feel sad because the loss of this work is yet another reminder of how your life as someone who teaches (and loves doing it) is over.
  • Contact the university and receive all of the content, but in one big file that is hard to read and that doesn’t look at all like the blogs you created.
  • Search on wayback machine for the actual blogs and find most of them.
  • Try to fix as many dead links as you can by adding in the wayback address.
  • Vow to always use a blogging platform in which you have control over your content.
  • Back shit up.

Continue Reading How I’ve Used My Break to Become Caring and Joyful Again
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