My last two posts examined the misconceptions behind the first four of “10 Ways to Get Yourself Fired” according to Dylan Pomerantz in the Chronicle of Higher Education (25 April, 2012). In my various roles as an educator over more than two decades, I understand where Pomerantz and others who describe similar sentiments and experiences are coming from. Again, my hope in responding to these ten ways to get fired is not to negate these uncomfortable experiences and the emotions that result from them; rather, I hope I can shed light on some areas where there may be misperceptions in order to help mollify these situations.
Therefore, here are the final four ways with my clarifications.
Ignore RateMyProfessors.com and Other Social Media
I dealt with the issue of separating personal and professional life in Part I; however, here Pomerantz mentions a slightly different aspect of such sites that all should take control of as much and as soon as possible. Pomerantz states: “Yet do not be surprised to have your department chair quote a comment about you from RateMyProfessors and use it to justify your nonrenewal. Far more damaging is when your chair runs your name through a search engine and finds that someone ‘twittered’ during your class that you are ‘crazy.’ Rather than find the student and ask for an explanation, the chair will suggest you don’t have control of your classroom if a student twitters on your watch” (25 April, 2012).
There are two issues here: 1) classroom management and 2) digital footprints.
First, with all of the technology available today and the way it is rapidly evolving, there is probably nothing faculty can do to completely avoid student use of it during class nor can any of us censor what students write on their private social media accounts like Twitter. However, faculty can be proactive. Dr. Justin Marquis recently wrote about ways to put this unstoppable use of disruptive technology to good use (“Taking Advantage of ‘Disruptive Technology in the Classroom,” 25 April, 2012). Rather than fight the prohibition battle or open the door for disgruntled students to tweet about you, keep students happy and engaged by incorporating such technology into your courses as much as possible.
Second, regularly search for yourself online to see what digital footprints there may be. Whether or not we believe it’s fair, employers are increasingly using search engines to learn more about employees and job candidates. In fact, with 91% acknowledging they use social media sites to vet candidates and 69% saying they have rejected someone because of something they saw online, it’s a safe bet that your online persona is being observed (5 February, 2012). Therefore, search for yourself online and do your best to make sure your online persona meets professional standards. You can often challenge or respond to the sites Pomerantz expresses concerns about, too.
Assume a Compliment Is a Compliment
Here Pomerantz basically states that what contingent faculty may take as a compliment (e.g., a new contract offer, a statement that a presentation was well done, or that a class observation was enjoyable) isn’t really a compliment. Rather faculty can expect that what is really implied is that they are perceived as not really spending enough time on teaching and that weaknesses will be focused upon by any supervisor’s review.
I am actually glad Pomerantz mentioned this one because I have witnessed the false compliment among faculty, and it always saddens me to see colleagues being unsupportive of one another. Much of this seems to derive from the insecurities that come with the job market, especially the competition for sections to teach, full-time positions, and tenure. It’s a bit like a cruel cake walk: Who will get the one open seat? Part of the solution is for faculty—at least as large a group as possible—to work together. A few months ago I shared: “5 Simple Ways Adjuncts Can Help Each Other,” (28 March, 2012). One suggestion may be especially helpful here. Present together. If you are sharing in professional development activities like presentations, research, and publication, it does help to build a healthier sense of community within a department.
Pomerantz also mentions having a supervisor start off with a compliment like “I thoroughly enjoyed observing …,” your class just before “small concerns will be magnified” (25 April, 2012). Again, I realize there may be some supervisors who do this. However, such individuals are exceptions, and most administrators do value the hard work and dedication of faculty. The disconnect seems to be that educators tend to be self-motivated and deeply engaged in their profession; they want to do well without anyone pushing them. Therefore, when a supervisor completes that class review and is required to offer not only strengths, but also some suggestions for professional growth, it’s easy for faculty to feel hurt rather than to see it for what it usually is: coaching.
Most of us who complete these class reviews realize their limitations. A 60-minute visit to a class or a read through an online course is like a still from a movie; it hardly shares the complete picture of who a faculty member is.
Assume a Democracy
What Pomerantz describes here is also something I have experienced on both sides of the issue, meaning I have been the rejected candidate for a full-time position and not understood why, but I have also been the chair who has had to reject good candidates. The hiring process from the hiring manager’s perspective is also truly a gut wrenching experience. As exciting and happy as it is to be granted a full-time position, it also means there are continued obstacles and variables to pass through. Sadly, one of these is exactly what Pomerantz mentions: Even after the interviews have taken place and the candidate choice is made, a budget glitch can prevent the individual from actually being offered the job. As difficult as it is to accept, when the deans told him it was “due to the economy,” they may have been telling the truth (25 April, 2012).
The main difficulty for me as a chair leading a hiring committee is that I will have applications from a pool of good applicants; however, I may only be able to interview a half dozen or less, and I will only be able to hire one person even if all the hurdles are cleared. This means I will have some good faculty like Pomerantz who will be discouraged. My advice is to realize that getting the interview, especially three of them as Pomerantz did, means that you are respected and that there is interest in advancing you at the university. The worst mistake someone can make after being rejected is to self-destruct with a negative reaction. Quite a few times I have seen these rejected candidates end up in better positions later on.
Not Becoming Besties with the Chair
The idea that people should kiss up to their bosses is a popular one, but it also needs some clarification. We’ve all encountered those supervisors who seem to use their positions to get friends. However, there are more likely culprits at work here.
Being a department chair is one of the most difficult positions at a university. Often it feels like being crushed between two armies: faculty and upper administration. Chairs are also educators who share the characteristics of being self-motivated and wanting to do well; therefore, keeping communication sincere but pleasant is a must. Chairs also have the responsibility of bringing a team together, so they are interested not only in hiring people with strong teaching skills and professional development records, but also those who are personable, professional, and pleasant to work with. This is different from being “besties.”
Overall, Pomerantz brings to light how difficult it truly is to be contingent faculty. I hope my three posts and attempt to clarify some misconceptions also reveal that all may not truly be as perceived in the situations he describes. Mostly, my wish is that educators would start being more supportive of one another whatever their various roles may be. Don’t we have enough detractors outside of the profession?
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