Monday, November 24, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part V)

After months of leaving tantalizing tid-bits in my epic five-part series, My Teaching Year, I am now prepared to deliver the stunning conclusion!

After several months in Windsor, my sig-other and I finally came to the realization that we really, really missed Toronto and that Windsor (even with her favorite restaurant, the Pitt for Pasta) just wasn't cutting it. It didn't take long for her to get a promotion and raise at the Toronto company she had left just six months before, so we rented an additional apartment in Toronto and I commuted back and forth on the train every few days. The arrangement worked really well, as I got a ton of class prep done during the four-hour train ride and got to keep teaching at Detroit Mercy, while still enjoying my sig-other and Toronto life on Thursday through Sunday.

My decision to leave Detroit Mercy altogether came about when I learned that one of the administrators (not the Director of the J.D./LL.B. program who was great) expected me to submit all my class assignments to her for approval before I gave them to the class. This was something that definitely had not been disclosed during my hiring process, and might have kept me from taking the gig in the first place, as it wasn't something any of the "doctrinal" professors had to do and I felt it was a real infringement on my academic freedom. This low-level admin and I went back and forth for a while and eventually took it to the Dean. I was willing to compromise, by consulting with the admin before giving out assignments (after all, I had usually used assignments that were the same or similar to other legal writing profs, and my student evaluations were always great), but my proposal didn't work--it was either her way or the highway.

Still, the decision wasn't an easy one. After I had been there a semester, the faculty voted to allow legal writing profs to convert over to tenure track positions on a rolling basis--something quite sought after in the legal writing field and still relatively rare among law schools. In addition, I had to make the decision to leave before making sure I could find work elsewhere (something most rational people avoid!). Still, I'm one of those stubborn people who puts principle above pragmatism and I gave notice that I wouldn't be returning for the 2007-2008 year.

The next few months were a bit scary--although my sig-other made enough money that we wouldn't be in dire financial straits if I didn't land another position, I still didn't want to just sit around for a year or more and feel like I had given up a rare opportunity to break into teaching at the law school level. Although I interviewed for a few other teaching spots (and got a free trip to Washington, D.C. out of it), my main desire was to get into either U of T's or Osgoode's Ph.D. program--the "master plan" being to get a degree and possibly a scholarly book out of the deal that would place me in my best possible position for landing a tenure-track job a few years down the line.

I had applied to both programs a couple of years earlier, and had been rejected by both. This time around, however, I was a Canadian permanent resident (thus making me eligible for the "domestic" spots) and spent a lot more time on my dissertation proposal. Still, U of T gave me a quick kiss-off and Osgoode waitlisted me, making for a tense several months. In the end, things turned out nicely for everyone: I got into Osgoode, my sig-other loved getting back to her old job, and Detroit Mercy quickly found a highly-qualified replacement for me. My Teaching Year was definitely a good experience, as I learned (obviously) a lot about teaching, but also how to interact with fellow faculty and administration--most of all, I learned the type of position I do and do not want in the future. And hopefully, in a few years, you'll be able to read a series of blog posts entitled "My Tenure-Track Teaching Year(s)".

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