Hard Working, Adaptable, and Skilled in Word

I have recently had reason to look at my resume. The last time I looked at it was when I was applying to be approved as a sessional teacher way back in the last half of 2013, so I thought it could do with some sprucing up in order to reflect the last six months of casual work.

To apply to be a sessional tutor you gather together your resume and your teaching evaluations, your transcript and your letters of recommendation, and you upload them to a website. Applying doesn’t guarantee you teaching hours, this only means that you are applying to be a part of the grab bag of sessional teachers that subject coordinators in your faculty have to choose from.This all happens in the second half of the year, and you don’t receive any kind of acknowledgement that you applied to be on this register, or are even made aware of your application being successful, until you are offered a contract in the mail in February/March of the following year. You can go up to nine months without knowing if you have been deemed worthy, and the process is closeted: there is no feedback or guidance offered as to what makes a candidate suitable, or not. As you can imagine there is a quite a lot of stress associated with this process, and sessional workers put a lot of effort into honing their CV’s in order to mollify this process.

For years now I have been putting together my resume and applying to be included on the list of chosen ones. Carefully updating my skills section to highlight all of the new competencies I have attained while working the various piecemeal contracts I have cobbled together.¬† In terms of the work I have actually done it seems impressive. A year doing learning platform support? Hmm that’s pretty key surely. Three months research into online teaching and collaboration tools. Who wouldn’t want to make use of that? Sessional teaching since 2003? Jesus that makes me old but surely I have learned a few tricks in that time. I studiously update my resume, feeling a sense of pride to see all of my hard work captured in this way, acknowledging to myself that all of these hours of work have amounted to something.

However I have come to realise that my resume itself is only useful for getting past the first stage of what I will loosely refer to as the ‘recruitment’ process. What attention or weight is given to these skills in the evaluation process by the shadowy figures doing the evaluating I am not entirely sure, although I suspect not a great deal. My point is however, once I am given the congratulatory letter plus contract which indicates I am indeed a part of the chosen few, these abilities are no longer important. It doesn’t matter if you have taught for ten years or one. If you are an expert in your institution’s learning platform or not. That you can WordPress or you can’t. To the institution that isn’t what you are and it isn’t what you represent. You are the sessional tutor. You facilitate the tutorials with the students, you mark the assignments, you reupload them, and after the session has passed you move on. Remember to forward your emails as your account will expire in 30 days.¬†Thank you very much, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I have crafted a set of skills and body of knowledge best suited for higher education and yet as it turns out, none of that is a “requirement” of sessional teaching.

The skills and abilities that I have gained by working within higher education for the past decade largely go unacknowledged within the very sector they are most relevant to. Rather than being viewed as an employee with a lot of skills to offer, I am viewed by the institution as useful only when I am deemed so for their uses. It seems trivial from the outside, but it is a situation which has become hurtful to me. Problems arise which affect myself and other members of the loosely assembled “teaching team”. In response, and if it is an area I have a lot of knowledge in (learning platform, a decade of marking) then I offer my advice. I word it carefully, deferentially, but still I take it upon myself to point out errors in Moodle sites and subject outlines with only the best of intentions. Wanting to be a team player. Wanting to contribute the things I know so that my practical understanding can be useful to others. These offers/advice largely get rebuffed or ignored or dismissed and it makes me disappointed. Not because I am underworked, far from it, but because I am under utilised. I have years of experience working in higher education, navigating these complex situations, and yet no one ever thinks to ask me what I think or ask for my advice. Moodle, and data management, and assessment design are now all concrete skills that I have, things that I know how to do. However these things are useful only within this very specific sector in which I have become entangled. And even then they are now not considered useful because no one wants to make use of them. If a casual Moodles in the woods et. al.?

I have backed myself into a corner, put all of my eggs in one basket, fucked myself over. I feel trapped within higher education and don’t know how to even begin to extricate myself. A decade of piecemeal higher educational experience has rendered me unemployable outside of this sector. It isn’t that I am incapable of working outside of higher education, it is that these skills and abilities aren’t easily translatable or transferable into other sectors. For example, some of the skills I have gained are quantifiable, but higher education specific (learning platform expertise, sessional teaching experience, marking and student data management) whereas others are not necessarily higher education specific, but are also not quantifiable (able to negotiate complex situations, socially aware, hard-working, dedicated, puts up with shit for years past when I should). My work experience is made up of a collection of short-term contracts and casual positions. I have performed just about every ‘office’ type function there is, there isn’t a platform or program I can’t learn, or a politically fraught situation I can’t deal with. Yet how do you put that into words? All of that is meaningless when your roles last 3 months at a time. When your title is simply ‘Sessional Tutor’ or ‘Research Assistant’ or ‘Project Officer’. As a casual I perform the same functions of any full-time staff member in the workplace and yet get credit for none of them. We are adaptable and able to learn on the fly, work long hours at multiple conflicting tasks and yet none of these titles really translate properly to the big, bad, outside world. Try putting “hard-working” on your resume and see how far it takes you.