Friday, February 12, 2016

I have a weird relationship with my career

Actually, it's not weird. I think it's pretty normal when you consider the vast majority of humans on this globe and how they feel about what they do on the daily.

But when you're a white middle class kid at a Christian college, it's sometimes a challenge not to feel like you're doing it wrong just because you haven't switched a hundred times out of anxiety that you don't have the "perfect" major, or that if there are other things you would love to be doing, you should be doing those instead because you're "not following your true passion." I feel insecure when someone says "you'll never work a day in your life if you do what you love."

It's just not true in all cases, guys. Sorry. It is a different story for everyone. Here's why that statement does not ring true for me. 

What I love is connecting with people. I love watching somebody's eyes open. I love becoming the mediating factor between a person and an important goal that was previously inaccessible. I love sharing the power of language with people who have only ever been criticized for the way they use it - or don't. I love crossing boundaries. I love learning from others, developing a community of understanding and curiosity.

So... teachers do that? Yup. Check.

What is difficult for me is being the person other people need me to be. This is a universal. I like to spend time by myself, doing what I want. I like to receive from people more than I like to give. I would rather learn than teach. If I could go to school my whole life, I would. Most people struggle with this degree of self-absorption and need to overcome it if they are going to make a contribution to the world around them.

Teachers in specific need to overcome personal interests in order to meet a need. That's not easy. That's work. It's rewarding, but it's definitely still work.

On a more personal level, I also struggle with practical considerations - I have great ideas all the time, but carrying them out by collecting materials, contacting interested parties, sharing my creative process with others - all these are major points of anxiety because they do not come naturally.

Let's enter the world of English Education for a little bit.

When I get thinking or talking about it, I love the program I've entered at this university. It honestly does not make a whole lot of sense sometimes. I am in two departments, one an applied science and the other an arm of the humanities.

Sometimes, the two departments fail to communicate and cooperate, and I have to make up for that and figure out how to recognize their differences. Sometimes I feel in-between because I don't entirely fit in with the education people but I also don't entirely fit in with the English people. Sometimes I even get a sense that I am betraying one or the other by being invested in both.

But that's ridiculous, and I don't need those doubts, because when it comes down to it my areas of study intersect in really important ways and allow me to explore different - and equally important - sides of the world, or of myself.

If I want to be effective, I am required to be educated about current empirical research in my field; to meet objective standards at every level of authority; to have a sense of physical space so that I know how to lay out my classroom and put everything in it that needs to be there; to know implicitly all of the objective skills involved in rhetoric, grammatical correctness, and literature analysis; to be prepared for emergency medical issues, mental health issues, administrative issues, transportation problems, and scheduling conflicts; to carefully time my grading, preparation, professional development, and communication with parents and students so that I can balance it all without becoming overwhelmed; to maintain a working knowledge of technology as it continues to develop.

The "B.S." in front of my degree largely represents these more objective aspects of the career I am entering. There is also a much more personal, intuitive, and compassion-related side.

Good teachers desperately need to understand the psychology and social situation of the people they work with and the areas in which they live; they are good community members, they contribute, they share, they learn from each other, they develop good teamwork skills so that they can bring harmony to the school they are a part of; they perform as the responsible and mature teacher every day, every hour, while maintaining a degree of genuineness and personality with students.

And of course, they must have a deeply rooted belief in the potency of the skills they teach.

Social studies teachers know that when you find out about the broader timeline of the world and your geographical surroundings, you understand how you are linked to the world and its people, and you gain a leverage point into making it a better place.

Science teachers know that curiosity, precision and cooperation in the common interest of humanity are vital components in developing an environment that's beautiful, stimulating and healthful for everyone.

Math teachers know that wonder about the organization of the universe is essential for becoming immersed in any subject and that thinking through complex problems sharpens your mind to apply to a variety of situations.

And I know that language is where everything begins.

In the end, I might struggle as a teacher, because of logistics, because of students who make me want to cry, because of administrative restrictions (the more I hear about Common Core the more I shake in my stereotypical teacher shoes).

But it will be worth it, because I will have a chance to go into a room every day, meet the young American world in all its forms, and dialogue with these people who are becoming who they are and struggling for words to explain it to others, to themselves, and to take in input that helps them understand who and where and what they are.

The classroom is where it all begins. If family and early environment is the primary indicator of a person's trajectory in life, school experience is the second. Every kid has to go to school, and every school keeps them in small rooms and hallways for eleven hours a day.

That is a powerful amount of time. Let's make it worthwhile for them.

I don't see that as a burden, even though it means an unbelievable amount of work; I see it as a privilege.

I cannot speak for every field, although I wish I could - I wish I could know and understand everyone's passions and be well-versed in them - but it seems to me that more than any other career, that of teaching combines subjective and objective interests, blends the mind into the heart, the physical and professional self with the spiritual, emotional, social self.

It demands, and allows, the person who steps into the role of teacher to be steadfast, but also flexible - unbiased, but also deeply concerned with the interests of others.

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