Confessions of an Addict

By Frick, Elizabeth | Phi Delta Kappan, March 1997 | Go to article overview
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Confessions of an Addict

Frick, Elizabeth, Phi Delta Kappan

A recovering addict decides to go public with her story in the hope that others who are tempted to follow the same path might be spared the misery she has undergone.

I am an addict. My friends and family beg me to quit. They point out that, to pursue my addiction, I abandon my loved ones several nights a week. I've missed many concerts, hockey games, and parent meetings because I just can't kick my habit. I feel guilty, my self-confidence wanes, my sense of inadequacy grows - but still I persist. The short-term "hit" is so pleasurable that I can't bring myself to consider the long-term costs.

No one has to point out that my financial situation has deteriorated. Last year I sold our big house and moved the family into a two-bedroom basement apartment without a kitchen (though the parts are there, all in separate rooms). We are tenants for the first time in 23 years, and what we live in wouldn't pass a welfare inspection.

It isn't as though people didn't warn me when I started down this road. "It's a doomed path," they insisted. "It leads to heartache and low self-esteem." They pointed to others who flirted with the same addiction and ended up in financial ruin.

Still I cling to my habit. I've joined support groups in the past: one helped me complete my doctoral dissertation, and one nurtured me through a long and difficult divorce and the period of healing that followed. But no one seems to know of a support group to help kick this habit.

My addiction springs from two fatal flaws: love and optimism. I love my habit; I crave the rush of adrenaline each night, even though I know I'll be feeble the next morning, barely able to click my computer's keys into coherent sentences. I won't regain my productivity until mid-morning. But never mind - nothing else gets me as high or makes me as happy.

My second flaw is optimism. I was reared to believe that tomorrow will be better. But my highs and my hopes don't buy my family medical insurance, and my tenacity serves only to dig us deeper into debt.

My name is Bette, and I'm a college teacher.

I am addicted to teaching. I teach college courses in writing and composition, and - for the last four years - that has meant "piecework": a night course at school X, another couple of night courses at school Y. I have no benefits, no seniority, no tenure, no security. One year I taught at three different colleges. within a 12-hour period, shuttling more than 80 miles between classrooms, my "office" a milk crate of files in my trunk.

They can cut my salary in half, citing budget shortfalls, but the mechanic who tends my car will not let me pay only half of my bill. I am lucky that my ex-husband is rich enough to foot all the college costs for our daughter and son, because I would never be able to afford to educate my own children.

I wasn't always this way; I used to teach English in middle school and high school. Constantly struggling with class loads of 150 or more students per day, I chose to do the American thing: obtain a bigger and better degree. My passion for linguistics led to a master's degree and then to a doctorate with a 4.0 grade-point average in my field. I have published in respected journals and delivered papers at national conferences. I've learned how to play the academic game, but the rules don't seem to work anymore, and I've priced myself out of the secondary teaching market.

I'm not alone. The American Association of University Professors claims that 38% of all college faculty members are in part-time positions. At the community college level, 52% of faculty members are part-timers. Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, hires 81% of its faculty on a part-time basis.(1) Most part-timers are paid only 40% of what full-timers make for the same work. Most part-timers are women: in the California state system in 1988-89, 61% of part-timers were female?

At one university, my pay is based on enrollment.

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