The Tentative Professor

I’m at a fabulous new job where I’m being challenged intellectually and have perks like $5500 for professional development, tuition reimbursement, free Spanish conversation groups, a bucolic campus, workout facilities, walking trails, theater space, and faculty seminars. I worked so hard to get back to higher education for this – more resources, more stimulation and more pay. I’ve been here for one month and have already decided that I love it. I mean I really love it, like unhealthy puppy love, please stay with me forever, it can do no wrong love.

It may sound far fetched, but I love the long commute because I now have time to listen to books on tape, study my Spanish like I’m headed to Costa Rica tomorrow and talk to friends and family that I’ve been too consumed to call. I love grading dozens of essays from my students, the severely flawed and the genius. I love being able to help a student to grow and to grow myself in the process. I love the ridiculous amount of autonomy and the assumption that I’m a highly competent professional. I love the kindness of the staff and faculty, assisting me as I bumble through the halls looking for room numbers and sending me rubrics for upcoming assignments after frazzled conversations about the workload. I love breathing the air of forest preserves that enshroud the campus and cedar woodpiles that someone nearby burns ever so often. Along with so much love, comes fear.

I fear that I am not good enough. I see all of the twenty-year, tenured PhDs, hear all of their conversations about neoliberalism and public space initiatives in Hong Kong and I think to myself, “Wanch, you are out of your league. You need more than two Master’s degrees and a love of learning; you need to set up residence at the Harold Washington Library for the next twenty years.” I fear that in order to fit in and woo my senorita, I need an intellectual wingman ala’ Hitch, feeding me lines from Foucault, Lorde and Paz in order to keep her. Will I live up to the hype? Will I make the college better and not just bask in it bettering me? Will I earn my keep? I sure hope so.

I also fear that I am being totally naïve and that the bubble will soon burst. No job can be this good. Period. Every place has problems and people with problems. Faculty and staff grumble (or whisper) discontent with the direction that the school is going in or about slights of the past. Some folks are way too keyed in and others are clearly tuned out, mechanical zombies working hard to fade into retirement without going postal before that glorious day arrives. A dude I had a great hour-long conversation with last week just resigned on Friday. WTF. Maybe the time will come when I’ll face the harsh realities of academia as well. What will I have to sacrifice to remain safe and relevant or just to get through it all – my blackness, my ideologies, my sanity? Will I have to lose the work-life balance I’ve striven so hard to gain in order to prove my worth? Will the nefarious “they” stab me in the back eventually or silence me with Hunger, I mean Tenure Games? Will they kick me to the curb if I speak out against any injustices I see? Or am I just being paranoid because it all feels too good to be true? And are these even real problems or Triple Ps (privileged people’s problems)? I don’t know.

Most of all, I fear failing my students. I don’t want to get so far gone that I forget what it’s like to be a low-income student struggling just to get books or the first-generation student who doesn’t get anything the teacher just said, but is too insecure to ask or the differently abled student who just needs the teacher to write notes on the board and make it big enough to see because my glasses are five years old. I don’t want to forget how much guidance, patience and support I needed from my professors and that I, too, have an obligation to provide these things whenever possible. I can see how it would be really easy to become lazy, dismissive and pompous as a professor, no longer keeping up with best practices in teaching nor engaging in the active learning strategies I used with my high school students because it seems more donnish to just lecture. I always want to help students to think, to analyze, to explore, to challenge, and to create. I want them to be informed and angry enough about the problems in the world to go out and create change. I want to empower new leaders and give sacred space for their voices to be heard and understood. I want to support them in achieving their dreams and be their fiercest cheerleader because we all need someone who relentlessly believes in us. I want to model being a decent human being because my fancy title is no excuse for poor manners, bad pedagogy, a shitty attitude, and waving my privilege around like a silk handkerchief at a debutante ball. I expect a lot from myself, but between committee meetings, new initiatives, hundreds of essays each semester, and a life that refuses to slow down, will I be able to muster the energy, the courage it takes to make my idealism a consistent reality?

The answer is yes. I have no choice. To whom much is given, much is required. This is a great opportunity and I won’t allow my baser self or excuses to sabotage me. There’s no room for fear, for my insecurities or my second doubts. I must conquer them all. I was hired because there’s something special that I can provide to my students and the college. I have teaching skills, writing skills, advising skills, administrative skills, code-switching skills, life skills, and people skills. Beyond the necessary skills, I possess much love – a love of my job, my students, myself, my colleagues, of learning, of all the past experiences and people that got me here, and a love of my life. And we already know that love conquers all. So Oakton, here I am. No rose colored glasses, no pretenses. Love me as I love you – imperfect and beautiful. Now, let’s get to work. There’s much to be done.


3 thoughts on “The Tentative Professor

  1. Monique Cook says:

    Uhhh Hello! This was a great read, professor Deen. I may be Biased because you’re my HOMIE from WYOmingggggggggggggg, but I feel encouraged. Keep fighting the good fight. You gotta a Whole lotta Love to give. But tell your employer we miss you at Boot Camp and your Workout Buddy sure would like to have you back at least one day…lol LOVE YA Noni

  2. Lanier watkins says:

    Hey Tina, Congrats! Don’t worry you will do great! Use every opportunity afforded to you, travel, publish and collaborate. Embed yourself and your work into the fabric of the department , make the students love you, and if they don’t value that someone else will!


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