Knowing what it's like to teach in higher academia is not something one can simply read about. Experiential knowledge obviously trumps cognitive knowledge here. It's a lot like snowboarding, really. You get the hang of it by practicing. Teaching in higher academia is not the same for everyone. There are, however, certain similarities in the experience. Teaching is often the least important aspect of the experience and publishing new research takes precedence more often than not. The phrase 'publish or perish' is not simply a cute little thing someone came up with when pursuing tenure. It's real. At the core of it lies much truth about general progress and the tenure process in higher academia.
Publications don't happen with ease. On the contrary, to get published in a well regarded journal takes time. A whole lot of it. When an article is submitted for publication at a refereed journal, i.e., the only journals worth considering, it takes anywhere between 8 months to well over a year before the work can appear in print. Granted, this presupposes that the article will appear in print. More often than not, it won't. It is customary to get a lot of "Thanks, but no, thanks" before getting the one "Yes." And that is just one kind of stress.
And this also happens to be the premise of the new film Tenure starring Luke Wilson as the protagonist, Assistant Professsor of English, Charlie Thurber. Some of the film is basically conflated emotion and surface scratching. Some, however, is as close to reality as it gets.
"Passion isn't enough anyone. That's what messed up." says Professor Hadley, one of the characters in the film. And Prof. Thurber seems to concur towards the end of the film.
Professor Thurber - played better than most would have played him by the often underrated Luke Wilson - seems to do most everything right. The one thing he can't seem to do well is publishing. His article is rejected by every journal worth anything and it's been well over 6 six years since he started the tenure process. Unlike his father who had taught very successfully at an Ivy League school, Thurber finds himself at a small college of liberal arts somewhere in Pennsylvania with very little hope of getting tenure.
"I'm not charmed by you, Thurber" says an older colleague to self-effacing but lovable Prof. Thurber. However, who is charmed by Thurber are his students and that, in the end, seems to provide the only answer that matters to him.
Luke Wilson manages to show with relative ease what it means to enjoy one's chosen profession. Being a teacher is not just about knowing the material well. Granted, that's a necessary and important component. Being a teacher, a good one, is about human relatability. And that is Charlie's forte.
I suppose this film didn't manage to make it to the theaters because it is, as they say in Hollywood, a 'small film.' Small, more often than not, is good, however. And this film is no exception. Do rent or iTune it. You might be charmed by it.