Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Recovering Grad Student Seeks New Forms of Torment

As a teacher. A high school teacher, that is.

So this is my big plan. Disappointed? Hoping I might have really thought outside the box and opted for a new career as a secret agent, or maybe a mad scientist? I don't have the wardrobe to pull off the secret agent job and I have no business being a science-y scientist (or, as it turns out, a social scientist. Moving on then.)

Nah, I think I'll make a great teacher instead. I have been teaching in universities for five years under the title of Adjunct Lecturer (and no, I don't know what that actually means). I have taught various classes in Religious Studies at two universities and it has been, hands down, the best part of being a graduate student. My first class was an intensive summer session course on world religions. It was a chaotic mess and I was utterly unprepared, but I enjoyed myself so much and I think many of the students did as well. Before I knew it was teaching regularly at a couple of different universities, in that grand old tradition of hiring graduate students instead of actually hiring (and giving benefits to) tenured professors. I can't say I minded, though--I loved getting the teaching experience and the extra money.

When I would return to my own research and writing after a semester of teaching, I would realize quickly that I missed the classroom. I'd miss the chance to talk and listen, to engage with an actual human rather than another online journal. I had landed in academia because I like ideas; I was now learning that I enjoyed ideas most when they were alive in a classroom discussion. I found myself more and more weary from the isolation of research. What I'm saying is that this seed was planted a long time ago.

And then I had kids. Isn't this how so many stories begin?

My daughters have changed me in so many ways. For one, I'm really tired now. I don't ever remember feeling so tired. In fact, it's just after eight and I'm having to prop myself up in front of my laptop. In my head I'm negotiating between an eight-thirty and a nine o'clock bedtime as I write this. Second, I can carry a lot of things at once. I can remember myself complaining about having to lug a bag of books home from the library, on the subway no less, every week. Now I can carry my two children, my bag, fourteen toys, and a bag of groceries in from the car. And I usually only drop one of those things, and it isn't usually a child.

But mostly having my girls has changed the way I want to live in the world. I'm feeling charged to work practically in the lives of kids (and not just my own). Academics can be a lot of things, but in my chosen discipline, practical was not one of them. For many people this is a great thing, and I salute their ability to stay the course and analyze/translate/critique/argue. Of course I could have become a teacher with my PhD, but that would have required that I finish and defend a dissertation I did not want to write. I would have had to analyze/translate/critique/argue, and my heart is just not there. But that charge I feel leading a classroom, of working each day with kids who are learning to explore the world, this, I think, is where my heart is.

Perhaps I am romanticizing the daily life of a teacher. Perhaps. But I've been close with many teachers and I see how hard they work. I've seen the emotional ups and downs of becoming invested in the lives of their students, and how they so often struggle against that large brick wall of educational bureaucracy. No, I don't think being a teacher easy. Nevertheless, here I go.

Because we don't know where we will be living next year, it is difficult for me to dive right into this new path of mine. I can't start an education program or look for work until we, say, pick a state. Or a country. But I can still move forward this year in preparation of these bigger steps. Since I have a few (cough) years of secondary education I am able to cobble together the pieces of an almost-English major, so I am enrolled in a few more English courses next semester to fill in some holes. I'm peeking around at jobs, testing the waters for when I'm ready to actually begin. I'll use the rest of this stolen time to work on my writing. Not a bad way to spend some time, don't you think?

This post is far too long. Night everyone.


  1. Thank goodness you didn't opt for mad scientist - I've seen your science skills. While you, I have no doubts, will be awesome at inspiring young writers (or wherever you land!)

  2. Yes, Barbara, I agree, about the mad scientist part. I think I will leave that to you!

  3. It's crazy tough to make a decision that changes your life direction like that, and I totally congratulate you for having the courage to do so! You are already a fantastic teacher, so it will be a piece of cake for you to get the paper to allow you to do it in high schools. Very lucky kids!!

  4. Thanks so much, Carmen. We didn't get to this topic on Monday because we had much more exciting things to talk about!It was a hard decision, but a good one.