As a young Sociology instructor and academic advisor, I have been overwhelmed by the cutthroat nature of higher education. I am lucky enough that in my current position that I am in an environment where I am supported in every way by all members of the administration and faculty, but in my first few jobs after graduation I wasn’t so lucky. In both the community college and high-school environment, I found myself competing for workable hours and access to classes that would increase my level of pay. It was bad enough that I, and other teachers, couldn’t enjoy doing something we loved as the dog-eat-dog nature of academia encouraged us not to support one another in hour time of need it made the experience even worse. As someone who suffers from severe bouts of depression and anxiety this competitive environment was not good for me mentally or professionally.
For those of you have worked either as an advisor or teacher you understand that you are bombarded daily with students who are struggling with depression, anxiety, coping to the new university life, family problems, relationship problems, and being physically and mentally abused by their significant others. Not only are you having to pile their problems on your shoulders you are having to deal with your own issues. Compounding things even further you must go through all of this knowing that most of your colleagues know that their situation improves if you fail.
This is the sad and natural result of universities and colleges being ran as a business. Those that promote this model see competition as a good thing. After all, the belief that competition for resources and power leads to success is one of the core principles of modern capitalism. I, and most other teachers and staff, understand that our schools must be able to ensure they turn a profit for the doors to remain open. And yet, this idea that an environment in which a small number of teachers must compete over scraps will lead to better teachers and better classroom outcomes is pathetically misguided.
Teaching two to three classes per semester classes requires hours upon hours of prep-work. Any time spent away from prepping from class leads to poor performance in the classroom, and therefore students walking away from the class having learned nothing. When I am unable to count on a colleague to support me through a day in which my depression is particularly crippling, or help with how to handle the situation that a student is going through, that is not good for me or my students, and vice versus.
This capitalist business model of running schools has got to end. Competition might be good when dealing with commodities but is not good when it comes to teaching. Teachers are already underpaid and underappreciated in this country, by both those on both ends of the political spectrum. The last thing that we need in this country, when good education and educators are needed now more than ever, is an environment in which the only people that understand what we are going through, other teachers, are actively encouraged to sit back and watch us fail.