My favorite high school teacher was Jim Downie. Mr. Downie was old, well-read, single, well-traveled, and very dry. He knew his stuff, and his stuff was depression. He knew exactly how to time a lesson on Anton Chekhov so that he said something like, "And life really is meaningless," and then the bell would ring. On one such occasion, I realized, I want to do this.
So I was an English education major in college. I had some good teachers, but to be honest, nothing doesn't prepare you to teach like an education degree. Or at least it didn't prepare me, as someone who can really only learn how to do things by doing them. But it did teach me that I was pretty certain I didn't want to teach high school after all.
In retrospect this seems like a big decision, but to be honest, I don't remember much about it. But I do have a way of learning what I thought at the time, which is to say I read some posts on my old LiveJournal.* This change of heart kind of comes up as an aside in a post about my attempts to file the bureaucratic requirements of graduating with an ed degree but not student teaching:
I learned that graduating without student teaching is actually a routine thing for education majors who undergo a change of heart. Not student teaching means you don't get your teaching license when you graduate-- but that tied into my other recent revelation, which was that I don't think teaching high school is what I want to do with my life. What I've learned about the profession over the past year or so has shown me that it's not the environment I want, it's not the sort of teaching I want to do. I think of high school as being like St. X†--and high schools are by and large, not like St. X.I'm writing this post because of one of the New York Times writing prompts I like to do on occasion. This one is about what you would do to land your "dream job." It turns out that to get my dream job, I was willing to stay in school for another eight years, make very little money, write a dissertation, work long and weird hours, and move anywhere in the country whether I wanted to live there or not. I was talking about this with one of my classes the other day (they're chatty folks), and they were like, "Geeze, you did all that!" Somehow the AP test had also come up, and I'd mentioned my scores on AP Bio and AP Calculus BC, and one student was like, "You could have been an engineer or the other kind of doctor!"
I'm not entirely sure what I want to do, but I think graduate school is my best option for now. I might go on for a doctorate and do the whole professor thing--I think that would be neat--but I'm not entirely sure.
And, I mean, I guess I could have? Except, like, why would I? I never had a desire to do these things; my dream, such as it was, has been to teach English and to write. My students asked me when I decided to become a professor, and I was like, "Hm, that's a good question." I was actually surprised to see just now that I was explicitly toying with it when I was a senior in college, because my memory is that grad school was more of a convenient holding pattern than anything else. I did my M.A., and was like, "Well, this is good," and so I went on for the Ph.D., and once you've got that, what can you do other than be a professor?
To accomplish it, though, I had to work harder than I've ever worked at anything in my life. I like to say that I've always been an "achiever"-- underachievers are lazy, overachievers are doing too much. I just do what you need to do to achieve. But in graduate school the bar for achievement became way high! So I guess I was willing to do a lot to get my dream job.
Or, you know, do a lot to not get my dream job, as often happens to Ph.D.s. And, let's be clear, I'm in a good job now but it's actually not my dream job, either. Gotta figure out how to get on that tenure track!
I wrote that LiveJournal post in September 2006. Eleven years later, I finally achieved that desire. I guess it is "neat."
#444: What investment are you willing to make to get your dream job?
* I also learned that I was smug and boring as a college student. No wonder I didn't have any friends. Man, my blog was terrible.
† You might infer from context that this was the high school I went to.