Monday, November 22, 2010

What do you wanna be when you grow up?

I remember when my senior AP English Lit. teacher--a seriously awe-inspiring English teacher and probably the whole reason I thought maybe teaching might actually be an enjoyable endeavor--stood up in front of us all and started talking about what she had wanted to be when she grew up, back when she was a little girl.  Of course she wanted to be an English teacher, I thought.  She was so gifted as an educator; I couldn't quite place her anywhere else, outside of that familiar classroom.

So I was a little shocked when she confessed her dream of being an astronomer.  An astronomer, really?

Periodically, my husband and I discuss what we want to be when we grow up.  He's still deciding, torn between several important but not all that lucrative passions.  I have a lot of careers I dreamed of pursuing when I was, fine artist, graphic artist (did that, sort of, was stressful!), heavy metal guitarist (shut up), geologist, a professional book reader (except I was scared of New York City), a Spanish translator, and the ever-present dream of being a writer (except I'm pretty sure I always thought I would primarily write poetry). 

I still can't quite pinpoint the moment I decided to be an English teacher, to be honest.  Like...I know I went into college a declared major, so it was before that.  And I can remember conversations with my mother about "back-up plans" know.  Loan repayment.  So I think it was sort of a practical girl's English major--the practical girl who paid for her own schooling and knew she needed to have a real job like five seconds after graduating.  I think my plan at the time was to keep on going to school until I would be able to be a professor.  Academia seemed like the place for me. 

Reading books, facilitating enlightening discussions, researching my passions, writing and publishing...things (this was about where my imagination failed me), and...

Wait.  Why didn't I get my doctorate?  Oh yeah.  School.  That I was paying for.  With borrowed money.  That I needed a real job to pay back.

So I started teaching high school, and every so often, it was actually like that.  I mean, not the writing and publishing things part, but the reading books and sometimes even having enlightening discussions.  But it was so difficult, all the time.  And I was only twenty-three.  And I was teaching in the same little town I grew up in.  And my boyfriend wanted to take off and explore the country.  And I saw--with not a little fear--my life stretching out in front of me in one small town, alone in front of a never-ending pile of ungraded papers (which were a lot less brilliant than the ones from my imagination).

So I took off with him, and after several months of hiking and camping and wandering around enjoying the view, I found what I hoped would be a shit job at a printing company.  Basically my job was to develop large sheets of film, place a mylar strip on them (part of my job title was "stripper"--so fun to tell my mom on the phone from across the country!), put the film on top of a plate, burn the plate, process the plate, and run it down to the printing press.  Mostly brainless, which was the way I wanted it.  I could read my book or write in my journal in ten second bursts as I moved the plates and labeled them and taped them together neatly. 

In the meantime, I referred to myself as a "Recovering English Teacher" and purchased my first computer so I could write and get published, which I had decided should be my "real" job.

And it's funny, because after about a year of this, someone realized that I was not utilizing all the brain power I could be, and they started having me do other prepress work--typesetting and page layout and simple design and then more complicated design until...TA-DA! My brainless shit job was now a stressful and complicated job.  And I admit, there were occasionally some pretty cool intellectual discussions, but more often then not, there was simply a lot of cursing at computers and a pretty serious case of font-resentment.

Where is this post going?  Ah, yes.  So.  I ended up back in teaching...I'm a little ashamed to admit it was not because I couldn't stay away but because there wasn't enough prepress work to keep me busy in the cruddy economy, and I wasn't really qualified to do anything else anyway.  I interviewed for my current job over the phone WHILE CLEANING OUT MY FRIDGE because I was so nervous I had to do something with my hands, and by some miracle I was hired, sight unseen.

And then I found out that--although we're more likely to have lengthy discussions about the merits of keeping one's rude and disrespectful opinions inside one's head than about the literary merits of several challenging poems--for me, middle school is where it's at. 

At felt right today.  (Which is saying a lot since it was Monday.)

Unless.  I still really wanna be a geologist...


brittanimae said...

Love it, Lips! Ah, the might-have-beens . . . it's good to drag them up and dust them off and see if any of them are still-might-bes. Geologist sounds fun!

loveable_homebody said...

Great! I like it when hearing about one person's dream makes us think of our own, why we dream it and what got in the way or how the dream evolved.

I know what you mean about those kinds of professors. I had a few I still think of today because of the effect their teaching had on my life. Your passion and understanding of the importance of teaching makes me think you could affect your own students this profoundly.

Megan Miranda said...

This is fantastic -- I love reading about other people's paths and how they got where they are. And I can relate...though I'm a chronic career changer. I had this list of things I wanted to be and felt like I needed to try them all...
I *think* I've finally settled down :)

elissa said...

@britt, I can at the very least be a rock collector! :)

@loveable, thanks! I've become resigned to the fact that teaching is part of what I'm good at--I mean, I'm pretty sure I'll always be teaching, even if I someday am not in a middle school language arts classroom anymore.

@Megan, I am not convinced I'm ever going to settle down! :P

Jill Hathaway said...

I think I'm a lot like you... I wanted a degree in English, and I wanted to write... but I also wanted a job.

I always thought I'd be an English teacher and writer, but I think deep down I never thought I'd be published.

It seems weird to be actually doing what I dreamed of. Like... where do I go from here.

Maybe I should quit it all and go to law school. Snort.

Jill Hathaway said...

Also, I LOVED that you cleaned out your fridge during your job interview. You're my hero.

elissa said...

@Jill! I actually just met a writer from Minneapolis, Anne Greenwood Brown, who was an English teacher and now is an attorney...she said teaching was harder, haha!

Jill Hathaway said...

Mwahahaha! I love it!