So I’m sitting here watching a gaggle of students angst and squirm over the final exam I’ve just handed them. Some of them are making the most bizarre faces as they cogitate. Which I guess means I have just about made it through my first semester as an instructor at the U of Guelph/Ridgetown College/Clinton Campus outpost on the furthest edge of the back of beyond. Good christ on a cracker, how did that happen?
This is rhetorical. I’m cognizant of how it happened. I just haven’t quite transitioned in my head, yet, to Fully Employed Person, having been an itinerant freelancer of one sort or another for, like, yonks. It’s likely that my credit rating hasn’t quite caught up with the news either, so I haven’t attempted to get myself a slightly-less-decrepit truck yet. Current truck is, saints be praised, soldiering on quite admirably, with 374,000 klicks on the odometer as of this morning, and I’m invoking a variety of deities (with gifts of incense, Passion Flakie wrappers, and Timmie’s pumpkin muffins) to encourage it to continue in good faith until spring, when perhaps the creditors will be open to treating me like an actual grown-up with predictable renumeration.
That’s not to say that the U of Goo might not pull the plug on our little program at any time. I really have no idea what the economics of running it might be, or if Guelph is more invested in its relatively shiny four-year Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management degree program, which has an “equine management” specialization and is being run out of the main campus (which on an academic level, is far better equipped, but which lacks the equine facilities we have here in Clinton). To some degree (no pun intended) the two-year Diploma program we offer is rather awkward, given that the first year happens in Clinton, and the second, on the campus of Ridgetown College, about two hours away. Ridgetown has the advantage of being able to offer student housing, while in Clinton the students have to scramble for rooms to rent … but Ridgetown isn’t really set up for horses. There are two ancient Standardbreds housed in a corner of the dairy barn, and that’s it. Meanwhile, if we could solve the student housing issue, we’d still have a challenge with classroom space on our campus, because we share the building with London’s Fanshawe College, which runs a couple of programs here. They have dibs on the bulk of the classrooms; we have exactly two (plus the barn, of course).
It’s possible, of course, that I’m just naturally paranoid, after having had more than my share of rugs pulled out from under me over the years. Then again, it’s possible that the enrollment we currently enjoy is not enough to justify keeping the program running. I’m only on a year-to-year contract, which means that I could be cut loose this coming May with very little trouble. It’s hard to get super comfortable under those conditions.
But here it is, December, and I have officially survived one semester, which is a pleasant surprise. It hasn’t been seamless, exactly, but given that most of us are rookie instructors, it definitely could have been worse. (Um, the total complement on the staff side is five … plus one brave individual doing the whole second-year program in Ridgetown.) I managed to find something to teach for every one of my lectures, I don’t think the students hate me, and after 18 weeks or so I feel like I’m approaching competency with the U of Goo’s “CourseLink” system, which allows me to post course notes and announcements and marks and such that the students can access. That’s been a steep learning curve.
OTOH, I have utterly failed to find a place to live closer to Clinton, which is a double-edged sword. I’d be very annoyed if I did pull up stakes and move everything, only to find myself given the ‘here’s your hat and what’s your hurry’ come spring … and that could definitely happen. Moving everything, in my case, doesn’t just mean the contents of my little house … it also means five horses, two hay feeders, six rubber mats, five troughs, whothefuckknows how many jumps, multiple feed bins, six huge Rubbermaid containers just of blankets and rainsheets, the contents of an entire tack room, and two trailers. Bit daunting, that.
Nonetheless, I am continuing to look (though if I don’t find something in December, I might as well resign myself to doing the road warrior thing until the spring, as utterly idiotic as that will be, because moving all that shit in winter weather is going to be unfathomably difficult). I’ve turned down a couple of places that just were too expensive or didn’t make the drive any easier than my current two-hour trek each way (which at least is on main roads which are likely to get ploughed). I did find one place with an absolutely beautiful Victorian farmhouse that was basically my dream abode, and the place had a barn, arena, the works. It was close to London, too, which would have been ideal. Alas, the owners decided they couldn’t accommodate all five of my beasties. I console myself with the thought that I could never have really afforded it anyway, but arrrggghhhhh. I have lots of helpful people who’ve been keeping their ears to the ground for me, but suitable spots are proving elusive.
I’m trying to be philosophical about the stupidity of my commute. I mean, I get to see quite a lot of Ontario this way. (Perspective: In order to listen to the CBC all the way across from home to work, I have to change the station three times — from the Toronto 99.1, to Kitchener/Waterloo 98.7, and then to London’s 93.5 when I get to Wingham and turn south.) People are starting to put up their Xmas lights now, so that’s pretty, given that lately I have been leaving when it’s dark and coming home when it’s dark. I get to see some interesting Mennonite vehicles and ponies on the side of the highway. Apart from them and the
occasional tractor the size of Montreal, there’s very little traffic to contend with on my route. And I’m getting a lot of podcasts listened to. Seriously, a lot. I welcome podcast recommendations, especially anything science-y or historical or science fiction-y, or anything about journalism (because I might be a professor these days but I will always on some level consider myself a journalist); please post below in the comments.
But the commute is also beating me up. I’ve gone up till now in my life without having developed a caffeine addiction, but green tea is now the only thing keeping me from crossing the median and slamming into a combine some nights. Four hours a day in a truck also ain’t doing the credit card any favours (I get about three one-way commutes to a $110 tank of gas), nor the muffin top. I’m really only able to ride on the weekends now, and I’m so knackered by the time I get home that the treadmill is a ludicrous fantasy. So I am thankful beyond measure that this is the season of big, camouflaging down vests, because, ugh.
So I’m understating it when I say I am ecstatic that for the month of December, I don’t have to go in every day. I have two more exams to give in the coming week, and there will be meetings and the submission of final marks and such, but until the winter semester begins on January 7th, I can work from home a fair bit. The batteries need a serious recharge. And my hair needs cutting. And maybe I should find myself a dentist too, because that hasn’t been happening for the past couple years.