Wednesday, 29 August 2012

From Literary Theory to Grammar; from Lecturer to Assistant-Professor

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This is the first week of teaching for the Fall Semester. As is often the case, the first week is quite hectic—not because of the workload, which is rather sparse during the first week because classes entail mostly introductions and orientation, but just because so many changes can occur in those first few days and students still have all of the first week to drop or take up new classes. This semester is no different. This morning one of my classes that I rather looked forward to teaching this semester, Literary Theory, got cancelled due to a lack of students; classes with less than seven students are automatically cancelled. Since this class was a borderline case with student numbers fluctuating between six and seven students the academic office said that they can freeze the registrations and ensure that the class is kept, but of course I will get a reduction in pay. Classes with less than, I think, 12 students result in a pay reduction to the lecturer's hourly stipend for that class.

My chairperson suggested that I cancel the class and instead teach another class that a rookie lecturer feels uncomfortable teaching—Advanced English Grammar. Now grammar is not my forte. I know it sounds odd hearing such an admission from a university lecturer teaching in an English Department. It is not that I'm particularly bad at grammar, it is merely that it is not my love. My grammar ability is that of most native speakers—a natural, instinctive ability that requires little reflection. As a English lecturer I obviously spend more time considering grammar than the average Joe, but seldom out of choice. My teaching focus is literature, not syntax. But (in academic English one should never start a sentence with a conjunction such as for, or, nor, but, yet, or so) this class has 26 registered students so I don't have to worry about further pay cuts. Another class of mine also has less than the optimal number of students so I'm already facing a pay deduction from that class. After an evening of deliberating I decided to give up the class I hoped to teach and take the grammar class after all. It's going to be boring, but in times of economic distress it's better to make the more practical decisions. In any case, I'm teaching four other classes, three of which I'm sure to enjoy: Public Speaking, 19th & 20th Century American Poetry, and Creative Writing.

Something else was revealed today that I found a pleasant surprise. My contract was renewed for two years again and with the renewal also came a raise in pay. These two things are not the pleasant surprise I was referring to. The surprise is that my title will be changed. I used to be 강사 or Full-Time Lecturer, but as of September 1, 2012, I'll be 조교수 or Assistant-Professor (in the American and Canadian usage of the term). That is a rather quick academic promotion after only four years of working here and with only a master's degree, but it seems quite a number of people with only master's degrees received the upped statuses as of this semester. Curiously, apart from the change in title, my contract has not changed. My core responsibility is still lecturing, and not research, as one would expect of an assistant-professor. While I would love to do research, my teaching hours are just too many for that to be practical. Nonetheless, whatever their purpose was for the “promotion,” it definitely enhances my academic resume. Also, the shift from lecturer to assistant-professor means that once I have a PhD, I will be eligible for working towards tenure-track at this university. Although this is still unlikely seeing as I am a foreigner, at least it is now a possibility, which it was not before.

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