Print Edition: November 19, 2014
My resignation was premeditated. I typed a letter. I folded it in careful thirds, firmly pressing the creases straight.
It was about two years ago, and despite being mostly happy with the people I worked with and the environment I worked in, I quit my job at a local grocery store.
Most students are familiar with the pitfalls of casual, part-time work. We often have to balance entry-level positions while we study, the theory being that the evils of working at minimum wage are worth it to pay for education that will someday result in something better.
But my school performance was slipping. I was often taking extra shifts to work full-time hours, and bending over backward to impress my supervisors so I could move up to the customer service desk instead of just the till. That is, until I was informed that to accomplish that goal, I would have to be available full-time — for part-time hours.
Eventually, working full-time hours for part-time wages and no benefits, being asked to do work from a higher payscale without equivalent compensation, and having difficulty trying to co-ordinate hours between three different departments and supervisors was enough to make me throw up my hands.
The final straw was my main supervisor releasing the new schedule before fall semester started, and confirming what I had suspected: he didn’t want to work on Monday, so I wouldn’t be able to balance work and school. So at the end of that shift, I brought the letter down from the lunchroom and tucked it into the daily communication binder. Then I hung up my apron and walked out the automatic doors for the last time.
It felt good. I felt relieved. I’m sure I’m not the only student who has had a similar experience.
But I didn’t think it was a feeling that might hit home for many of our instructors.
Sessional instructors, as you’ll read in our feature this week, often work full-time hours for lower pay than full-time faculty earn. They struggle to secure benefits, and they fear ascending into more secure positions will never be a reality, no matter how hard they work. Some also fear speaking out could cost them what little they have.
To a certain extent, that kind of precarious standing is expected in an entry-level position. But the obvious difference between casual part-time, entry-level positions in a grocery store or retail environment and faculty positions in a university are that the people filling sessional positions have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours earning degrees which are supposed to give them a competitive edge.
Despite accreditation and experience, they face the same realities — and worse — I accepted as part of being a cashier, and ultimately the same ones that spurred me to quit. It’s a sobering thought for anyone thinking about becoming a professor: you can work as hard as you want, but for factors often beyond your control, it’s just not in the cards.