For the first time, I’m using my blog as a journal. Previously, I’ve been very self-important in my postings, writing about things that I felt others would find interesting, or should find interesting. But I’m over that. And hey, since 99% of the people who read this thing already love me, they’ll probably find this interesting anyway.
I’m at a professional development conference for English composition instructors, sponsored by the academic publishing company I work for. This may sound like a drag to you, but as you may recall I hold my B.A. in English, so I’m very much enjoying being around so many other people who have too much to say. We created memes by translating modern song lyrics into Old English and writing them on a picture of a Shakespearean-looking dude. Our keynote speaker discussed using creative nonfiction to teach students about the writing process, rather than using the tired old rhetorical modes. (this is how you write a description. this is how you write a compare/contrast paper. this is how you kill yourself because none of this is engaging or relevant. by the way, this here is a narrative essay.) I’m socializing with our authors, seeding business, having a blast and loving my job.
Until dinner. In the hour and a half before dinner, I participated in a technology happy hour, where we feed instructors cocktails and make them listen to us talk about all the digital solutions we offer to enhance their classroom. I had 5 minutes with each of the 4 groups to go through my assigned product. Brevity is not among my strengths, hence the existence of this blog, but adjusting on the fly is, so I made do just fine.
After the technology dog and pony show, I piled a plate with every item from the buffet, because I turn into a goat when there’s a buffet to eat from, and sat down at the first table inside the dining area doors. Greetings and niceties from the instructors at the table, crab and corn chowder not reaching my face quickly enough, and then this lady had the nerve to say, “When you were presenting today, even in that 5 minutes I could tell, you’re an English teacher.”
God dammit. Thanks for justifying my deepest fear – I’m never going to fall in love with what I’m doing, because as long as I’m not writing or teaching writing, it’s not what I was born to do.
I’ve thought countless times about going back to school for my M.A. in Linguistics or Rhetoric and pursuing my original career path of being a college instructor, but, you know, life happened. And now I think about things that are way too adult, such as being fully vested in my 401K and never being able to live without the luxuries a non-teaching salary affords me. And of course, there’s the element of insight into higher education as a profession that I’ve gotten from my current job. Believe me, it’s bleaker than you think, especially in English.
At one community college in Texas, the only state that actually has their shit together in higher education, enrollment in developmental writing courses increased from 600 in Spring 2012 to 850 in Fall 2012. 850 students that graduated high school and were encouraged to go to college, but can’t write a basic essay. Some that can’t string sentences into a paragraph or even construct a grammatically correct sentence. Some that are reading at a 6th grade level. All that need quality teachers who give a shit and aren’t jaded by the sudden plummet in student success, but motivated by it.
And I’m selling textbooks.
The woman who called me an English teacher is the director of the composition program at a large Texas two-year, which – if you only know one thing about American higher education, let it be this – means something. She’d hire a me. But it was her friend that truly inspired me. I’ve always felt I had to justify choosing the publishing route over the education route, because it was the selfish, less valiant move, until she said, “Honey, there’s always your next life. Hell, teaching is my third life!” And she wasn’t talking about reincarnation. Maybe I don’t have a career; just varied interests grounded in the same skills and talents that will always point North. Until I get there.
Like all quality writing, this rant doesn’t have a conclusion. It’s taken me to a different place than I was when I started, and that’s all anyone can ask from a writer, or a reader. Maybe you don’t get it, or maybe I just sound too whiny to empathize with. Or maybe you’re also thinking that your 20-year-old self wasn’t as idealistic as you thought. And that the bills will always find a way to get paid.
I bet I sleep quite well tonight.