The Beginnings of a Confession
I don't think I will. I don't think I have it in me because I don't care enough.
For the past 15+ years, I always thought that eventually I would end up as Dr. Teacher Lady. It was just a matter of how, when and where. I always figured I would be a college professor. I could live "the life of the mind" and that's what I was meant to do.
And as soon as I started teaching college 3 years ago, I started to hear the distant sounds of my life-long dream falling apart, like chunks of plaster hitting the floor - some big, some small - crashing into smaller and smaller pieces. Now there is nothing left.
I don't mean to make this sound like a melodramatic suicide note, which I suppose it is. Let me begin again:
Jerry Seinfeld once said the best time to have a job is that brief window between the time you are offered the job and before you actually have to start doing it. In my case, that summer was filled with delusional fantasies about what it would finally be like to "live my dream."
At least I know I am not the only delusional person in the world: At every single wedding I have worked, some young drunken bridesmaid or guest comes up to me and says the same thing: "Are you the wedding planner? Do you have a card? Could I, like, talk to you sometime about how you got into this? This is my DREAM job!! I have ALWAYS wanted to be a wedding planner." I don't have much self-restraint, but I have enough to keep myself from saying, "Good gob, why!?!?!" I won't review the gory details since I have this whole series, if you will, but there is nothing glamorous or romantic about being a wedding planner. Nothing. I've swept trash at an amusement part and I've worked at a waste-water treatment plant and being a wedding planner is only slightly less offensive than those two jobs. So I understand that maybe it's a bit immature to think a job is going to be what you think it will be. In the case of wedding planning, I blame J-Lo for all the false perceptions.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Confessing my immaturity about thinking that teaching college was going to be some cross between Educating Rita, Dead Poet's Society and the scene from Kinsey where Kinsey first taught his "marriage course." In actuality, it has been more like Animal House and Dangerous Minds, except I don't look like Michelle Pfeiffer and I don't play the guitar and/or have sex with my students. (Oh, boy. Get ready, Sitemeter. Here come the pervs!)
From the moment I started teaching, I kept thinking, "This is teaching college? This?" And for a while I told myself it was because I was new and I just didn't get certain things. Then I wasn't new anymore and I told myself that Inappropriate Sister and her brother were anomalies and the majority of students weren't like that. And to some degree, that was true. Except the anomalies took up more of my time than everybody else - and dare I mention that they got special and/or better treatment than my students who toed the line? Then I told myself it was just where I taught - a large research university not known for its tough admissions requirements and somewhere else it would be different. Except Mr. J. teaches at a small, private liberal arts college and it's no different. In fact, it may be worse because many of his students are spoiled, wealthy and possess an enormous sense of entitlement. At least mine are just toting around that sense of entitlement. I thought maybe it was just my students who were vaguely delusional about their abilities - i.e., the endless "But I've always thought I was a great writer" or "I studied really hard - how is that my grade?" except then I started reading Rate Your Students on a daily basis and I found it wasn't just me or my students. As an aside, today I find out that RYS will be outed in The Chronicle of Higher Education tomorrow and I am officially pissed. But I guess that is for another post.
In a bizarre turn of events, I picked up a consulting position last week. It has nothing to do with sex or education or sex education. It is a complete and total return to my old life, minus the job stability and medical benefits, but plus a whole lot more cash. I will be working 20 or so hours a week until this semester ends and then . . . I imagine I will pick it up to full time or more.
Mr. J. and I have had endless conversations about this. Me quitting my full-time job and becoming a full-time student has been extremely difficult for our little family. Going down to one real income tested our marriage, our patience, and certainly our ability to be "frugal." Generic tampons, anyone? I'm not completely whining about the situation. I know that few adults are lucky enough to quit their jobs full-time and indulge in the pursuit of their life-long dream. For that, I am truly grateful to Mr. J., to gob, to all my family and friends who constantly said, "atta girl!" and "you can do it!" And I suppose I can do it - I have done it so far - but I don't think I want to anymore.
Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a student telling me that he had been really ill and was not able to study much for the upcoming exam. Would this affect his grade? I e-mailed him back, politely writing that I wasn't sure if he had kept up with the reading, how he felt about his comprehension of the topics, etc., What was I supposed to say? Sure! Anyone with a few brain cells rattling around in their skulls can pass my exam with at least a B+! He got a note from his doctor, showing how he had spent some time in the emergency room which had rendered him incapable of sitting upright and reading a book. I wasn't about to do battle over this one, so I said fine - you'll take the exam when you feel better. Except Monday, the day before the exam I had a voicemail from him. (This must have been really urgent. Students rarely use the phone. Too much of a chance they'll actually have to talk to you.) It went like this: "Teacher Lady, I really need to talk to you. I have class from blah, blah time to blah, blah time. I need you to call me back today between 5:00 p.m. and 5:15p.m. when I will be waiting for your call."
I wasn't furious - believe it or not. I don't think there was anything to be furious about. Mainly, I thought two things: Interesting that he is just "too ill" or has been "too ill" to study, yet the day before he can't take the exam he's running all over campus and is apparently so busy he has exactly 15 free minutes. And then I thought: Oh no, my dear. Even though you might think I work for you because when you pay your tuition, you believe you are paying my salary, you don't tell me to call you within a specific 15 minute window. Because it wasn't a polite request or a suggestion. It was the same tone that a supervisor would use when telling a subordinate she must call the client at this time because that's the only time the client would be available. A very "don't drop the ball here" tone.
This isn't the straw that broke the camel's back - I think that happened a year ago. I also know that I do enjoy teaching - believe it or not. My evals are okay mostly (if not extreme) - both the official university course evals and the Rate Your Professor evals. But I cannot do this every day, every semester for the rest of my life. I will end up meaner and more bitter and more jaded than I already am. And that is not good. I may decide to proceed with comps and work on my dissertation at a snail's pace, part-time while I do my new/old corporate gig. Although I'm not sure I will ever technically "need it" at this point, giving up the life-long dream isn't easy. It's sort of like finally realizing you and a childhood friend no longer have anything in common. And maybe you don't even care for the childhood friend anymore. Suddenly, you realize her husband is a racist and she's picked up his racist tendencies or whatever. But you feel guilty and maybe you want to hang on to that friendship for sentimental reasons. I don't know.
But I do know I am tired of being a human lie detector. I am tired of trying to determine which stories are real and which are fabricated and of the real stories, which ones deserve my understanding and which ones deserve an "Oh, well. Sorry about your luck." Because at the end of the day, my driving philosophy has been to be as fair as possible. Which - I found it - is about as much of a pipe-dream as pain-free plastic surgery.
So there. That's my rambling, make-no-sense, not exactly clear "confession" of sorts. I will keep you posted, if you haven't deemed me a selfish, heinous sell-out and traitor to the educational system. Wait - although I will say this: I sure did miss wearing the Ann Taylor suits! It's awfully nice to be able to wear something cool and know it won't end up covered in chalk dust or dry-erase markers by the end of the day.
If you have deemed me a selfish, heinous sell-out and traitor to the educational system, that's okay too. I get it. Thank you for your readership. Good night and good luck.