Sunday, November 22, 2009

Déjà Vu -- My Nightmarish Foray into the World of "Pseudo Education"

It wasn't really déjà vu, but almost. Yesterday K got a message on his phone from one of our friends in the Brazilian church who was inviting us for her birthday party. We weren't able to go (see yesterday's post), but the moment K told me about the party I felt all angry and almost sick inside.

Last year we "went" to her party, that is, K and the boys got to enjoy it, but me? I just went downstairs for a few minutes to eat (delicious food!!! a mix of Brazilian and traditional Thanksgiving, well, at least the turkey) and spent the rest of the time at my host's computer frantically answering emails and grading for my "pseudo educational"/"pseudo-work" with Axia college, part of the University of Phoenix "conglomerate." "Facilitator," is what my "job" was/is called. And if it's at an actual location (I've been contacted to go to an interview for this), it's called "practitioner faculty" -- what in the world is that supposed to mean? I have an actual degree and teaching experience, I don't need/want to be simply "facilitating" or being a mere "practitioner" using materials (which aren't that great to begin with) produced by a corporation which aims at profiting from other people's need to get an education, particularly from home, or part time.

I feel sick to my stomach just thinking of those two months. If I hadn't had a ten-day break for the holidays, I don't know how I'd have survived. How can one do it for straight nine weeks, I wonder? I know that after the first few weeks some of my colleagues only spent a couple of hours a day working and were able to manage the grading (we had around 60 students and strict deadlines to respond to assignments: 48h for the shorter ones -- at least per student per week, and 7 days for the weekly long assignment), but I just wasn't able to. I mean, I got nearly everything graded, working into the night (until 2 am) several nights a week and I still ended up overlooking a paper or two (typically one that had been turned in late or too early).

Of course I am to blame for the fact that I was working part time a few days a week and never did my "facilitating" first thing in the day or earlier in the week (not that this was exactly possible because I had to respond to students as they posted their contributions), but only after I'd worked, taken care of the kids and house and had a bare minimum of "me" time online. I just couldn't "have a life" and hold this pseudo job... as I ranted in the blog a few times.

There's another thing I am to blame. I just could not "pretend" to grade the students' work so I could do it faster. I gave them real feedback, individualized comments, I corrected their mistakes and advised them on how to get their work better next time. I don't know how I could have done that using less time, but apparently that didn't matter. The quality of my work didn't matter, only it's "automatism" -- fitting into their system seamlessly.

So, yeah... I know I could be earning some 900 around 600 bucks a month [after I wrote the post I realized it was less than I'd thought -- not enough for all the work], which would be helpful, and I'm making NOTHING, but at least I'm happy, right? RIGHT? As I wrote here before, this particular "work" had all the responsibilities of teaching with none of the fun and enriching parts. I felt enslaved to the computer and to being available to questions 24/7 and I knew I'd be penalized if I didn't answer a question or query within 24h. Big brother was watching.

Main regrets: I wish the students had been given the opportunity of evaluating my work, regardless of whether I was 10 minutes or an hour late posting a correction, and I also wish that I had been given a chance to evaluate my terrible, discouraging "mentor" -- she was all, but a mentor, that's for sure! She derailed me on week two with a frantic phone call and I never recovered from the utter nervousness and (momentary) despair caused by it.

Several students thanked me profusely for helping them, but I guess their voices will never be heard, I doubt that they had an opportunity to evaluate their "facilitator" -- I was just replaceable cheap labor, other people more desperate for home-based work were probably waiting and already trained to take my place.

Is there anything else you'd like to know from my (thankfully) brief "foray into the world of pseudo education?" I'm willing to speak up now. I should actually go check whether other people have blogged or written online about this or if they're just afraid to name the big corporation.

This is definitely not what I intended to post today, but I've wanted to write this for a long time. I'm just a little surprised by the way that I came about to writing this! How a simple recollection brought along all the feelings of entrapment and helplessness that I felt while trying this "line of work." It was enough. Working in the margins shouldn't come at such a high cost to someone's peace of mind. I didn't work for 10 years on a degree to submit to that. Hell, no (and I don't generally even use this kind of language).


Prof Mama said...

Wow, Lilian. How horrible. It sounds like this is something else we have in common: experiences are so vivid for me that thinking about them, even if a good amount of time has passed, has a huge effect on me. I totally understand what you mean by feeling sick about it.

I am firm believer that if something makes you so unhappy, no amount of money is worth the trouble. It's just not.

Lilian said...

Thanks for the comment, my friend. I actually went ahead and edited the post, clarifying that the money was way less than I had initially posted. I'd written about this before and one of my commenters had actually referred to this job as a "soul-sucking" one -- very true. I think that part of the reason why I posted less in the blog this year has also to do with having been involved with this "work" in January and part of the February, in addition to working at my son's school 3 days a week.