Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Post-MFA Jobs! Online Teaching

After graduating from Montana in 2008, I took a job the University of Phoenix, College of Axia, teaching basic writing classes. I’ve had various friends ask me about online teaching. So here’s a post about it. I’m happy to share my experience, but, remember, I am no expert. This is just one woman’s journey at one university.

Here goes.

Generally speaking, online instruction seems to be a huge trend, simply because it’s so cost effective (no buildings, no tenure track profs to pay, etc). It’s also convenient for students who aren’t in school for the “college experience” (Read: Jager Bombs). Many students are single moms, people with families/full-time jobs or soldiers abroad. A nice break, in many ways, I will say, from the whinging entitlement U kid.

Online is nice for us writers who need a flex job that we can do when we like. If I want to monitor the discussion board or grade a few assignments, at 2 am, or 8 am, or from my iPhone (if I had an iPhone) while in a traffic jam, or in my jammies, I can. I don’t have to dress up in “teacher clothes,” drive anywhere, struggle for parking, prepare lectures, or really, cultivate the same level of relationship I do with “live” students. Which saves a ton of time.

Online pays more than adjuncting. (Of course, what doesn’t?) Obviously, pay varies according to the institution, and your efficiency level (or if you actually put time into teaching versus phoning it in). UOP pays about $1750 per nine week class before taxes. (These pay rates can vary. Don’t quote me!)

There can be weirdness working for “McUniversity,” (Emoticons! Exclamation points! Motivating emails!) which has been criticized for abusing student loans for profit, i.e. students who mostly likely don’t have a real chance at graduation. The idea that “everyone” deserves a degree is nice, but doesn’t always work. I admit, that many students could barely construct sentences is really a tenth grade level English class. But as always, there’s those special students who surprise you.

Note: at McUniversity, the syllabus and all procedures are decided for you. You can tweak. But not much.

Also note: the trainings, etc. can take a while. So don’t expect to apply and be at work right away. I was hired in May, didn’t get my first paid class until October. But that was UOP.

And, finally, be forewarned that you remain, essentially, an adjunct with all the non-rights and non-benefits thereof.

You might like to know: How do you get these jobs?

Basically you search the University of Phoenix website until you fine where they list job postings and stalk it until they need English instructors. And UOP is not the only option. I’ve known people who taught at Kaplan or American Military University or other places. I have no idea how they got these jobs. I have no idea what they pay. There might be tenure track online jobs. There might be incredibly high paying jobs. If anyone knows more than me, or has tips, feel free to comment.

My guess is that if you just keep researching human resource departments of schools, or keep refreshing as jobs will crop up. From there, well, it’s a job.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On Introductions and Mustaches

I teach nonfiction workshop here at OU and I was (uh, this was back in May) telling my students about how they needed come see Tobias Wolff read at our Lit Fest, because—well—they needed to come see Tobias Wolff, when one student turned to me and asked the dreaded question—


To be fair this question was asked in all sincerity by one of my top students. He was not asking in the sense of why I gotta see Tobias Wolff but in the spirit of a genuine desire to know. And so I wanted to give the inspirational Dead Poet’s Society response his question deserved. I grasped for all the words in the universe—

And answered: blahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbblahbalhblahbubbb

It turned out, that I was on call to introduce the very Tobias Wolff for Lit Fest, and, with the permission of my student (although I did change the name for this blog post), was inspired to write this introduction below.

As a grad student, or as an instructor, or (ideally) as a famous writer, you might be summoned to perform an introduction. So here’s my sample, for what it’s worth. Also, hey, this might inspire your summer reading list.

The Top Ten Reasons Why You, Jarod Schulzendorfer, Should Be Here Right Now Listening to Tobias Wolff

10) Tobias Wolff is one of America’s great short story writers, having penned such anthologized classics as “Bullet in the Brain “In The Garden of the North American Martyrs,” “Soldier’s Joy,” among others

9) His novella The Barracks Thief won the PEN/Faulkner Award for 1985 And was selected this year by David Sedaris as his recommending reading for his spring tour.

8) Wolff is not only a fiction writer, but a pioneer in the field of memoir, applying techniques of storytelling to nonfiction. In 1989 he helped transform the genre by having Chapter One of his memoir This Boy’s Life by opening with a semi truck careening over a ledge.

7) In addition to This Boy’s Life, the story of his childhood, Wolff wrote the memoir In Pharaoh's Army which records his U.S. Army tour of duty in Vietnam.

6) Wolff is an award-winning teacher, having worked for such universities as Stanford and Syracuse where he has mentored writers we love such as George Saunders and Mary Karr.

5) This Boy's Life became a feature film, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, as a young Toby.

4) Jarod Schulzendorfer, in case you “wondering about how you are doing in the class,” you are doing just fine. Any student that emails me before spring break about what he should read automatically begins the class with an “A.”

3) As a teenager the author completely fabricated all his applications to exclusive prep schools, from writing his own letters of recommendation, to forging transcripts, to inventing a swim team for his high school and changing his name to Tobias Jonathan von Ansell-Wolff, III.


And…number ONE, the top reason, Jarod Schulzendorfer, why you should be here—and I apologize for ending on this—

Sweet mustache.

To which Mr. Wolff replied, “You don’t ever have to apologize for complimenting my mustache.”

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Before I left Missoula in 2008, I stood on Higgins Bridge, shook my fist at the churning Clark Fork River, and with all the melodrama of Scarlet O’ Hara, swore that I’d be back, and with a published book. That’s right, a BOOK. With a shiny cover. And chapters. And an acknowledgements page.

And so, after three years of flaming meteors and alien invasions and giant poison spitting toads and who knows what else (who said writing a book was easy?), I shall make my Great Return to Missoula at the Montana Festival of the Book this fall. I don’t know yet if I’ll be reading at Fact and Fiction, or at the Wilma, or perhaps standing on the M for an audience of puckerbrush and ponderosa pines. But I will be reading.


I began My Life as Laura at the beginning of my MFA in 2006. I had no idea what writing a book meant, beyond subjecting my fellow workshoppers to half-cocked drafts. (Flashback: sudden memory of an early chapter that included a certain “Kraft Macaroni n’ Cheese Incident,” in which orange noodles gave me the ability the ability to channel Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

Uh, that did not make the final cut.

I’ll be launching an author website soon (Does “book” mean I’m no longer a “writer” but an “author” now? One can hope). In the meantime, I look forward to the time when I can see the people who saw the pages in humbler, more orange forms.

The Western Literature Association Conference will be that same weekend. Also, a good thing.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Goings on in Seattle: Elizabeth Colen reads at Ravenna Third Place Books

...and I get to be the opening act! Elizabeth will be reading from her chapbook "Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake," which is featured in the new collection They Could No Longer Contain Themselves (Rose Metal Press 2011). I will read from my manuscript "Wreck Idyll," forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in 2012.

Tonight. 7 p.m. Ravenna Third Place Books.