Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why do we do the things we do?

After my last post Anne commented and said,

"Sarah, someday I want you to blog about what drew you to teaching. I'm not trying to sound like a jerk here...seriously what makes people want to go into that profession. It's not something that I think I could handle, but maybe it's really not all that bad?? And what's worse, the disrespectful kid or that kid's parents? I'm trying to have a good relationship with Corine's teacher; I just hope that she doesn't think that I'm trying to be a suck up."

Here's my answer:

A total lack of imagination.

When I went into college I had no idea what I wanted to do. First semester I tried to just figure out which classes to register for and then how to find them on a daily basis. The second semester I learned from my bad grades that I needed to take more classes that I could reasonably expect to get a good grade in. After that, I chose reading and writing courses because those were my favorite and I'm not one to delve into anything new or difficult if I don't have to, so I stuck with those kinds of classes.

Around the second semester of my second year I figured out that I was on an English major track, which was fine with me but what does a person do with an English degree? It's not the most practical degree a person can get and it's not something a person goes into if they want to have any money, because it turns out people don't want to pay other people for reading literature or writing poems. So I had to decide what I was going to DO with this worthless degree, so in my third year I decided that I could be a teacher. They have jobs that pay money, right? Sure, why not. I've had teachers, my parents were teachers. This wasn't something I was going into totally blind. I figured I could do it.

I got into the secondary education program and had a great time taking the classes. I made some good friends and we mercilessly made fun of the other kids in all our classes. (Pete, remember the "withering?") Then I finished and had to student teach.

I HATED student teaching. I taught under two teachers. One was a matronly woman who saw me as her assistant/slave and herself as my taskmaster. The other one was a big, grumpy man who wanted me to teach his classes following his lesson plans EXACTLY, which worked for him because he was old and loud and intimidating, but not so well for me who was young and quiet and infectiously beautiful and charming. It was a total trainwreck. When I wasn't slaving away for the lady I was having meetings with the man, all of which started with him taking off his glasses and rubbing his face like he was totally exasperated and out of ideas when it came to making me a good teacher.

I was in big trouble. I hated teaching. I hated the teachers, the administrators, the parents, and many of the kids.

One day during the man's class which I was teaching, there was one girl named Crystal who came into class, sat down and buried her face in her arms. When I told the kids to open their books to the story we were reading, she didn't. Mr. Grumpy told me to go make her do it. I went up to her and quietly asked her to open her book. From under her arms she said "Please don't." Okay. I let it go. Mr. G. was super pissed that she wasn't following directions, but I had a feeling that this was a battle not to be fought at that time. I was right. Later on that semester, that girl started to open up to me and told me that the day she wouldn't open her book was the day her step-dad showed up in the lunch room and made a big scene and she said she couldn't really pull herself together enough to read a story with the class. I was right! Mr. G. was wrong! That was the point at which I thought that maybe I had some talent for this job.

After I finished with college I applied all over the place for jobs and didn't get anything. Then at the last minute I got a part-time job in the Falls teaching English at the new alternative school. I loved it! I loved having my own classroom and being able to run it the way I wanted. I loved the kids too. But I was SO naive back then. I remember one day a kid came into my room after class and told me that if he didn't pass his classes, he was going to have to go to "juvie" and he really didn't want to go to juvie. I realize now that it was a not-so-veiled threat (he was playing with a pocket-knife at the time) and I didn't even realize it! He kept creeping closer to me telling me how important it was for him to pass and I said, "You won't pass unless you come to class and do your work! And put that knife away, you're going to cut yourself!" He was at a loss and just left. He didn't pass. I had him in class again several years later when I worked at the jail.

So in answer to your question, Anne, I sort of fell into it and have grown to like it more every year. I like kids more every year, anyway. That helps a lot.

And I'm a total masochist.

If I could go back and do it over I'd be a dolphin trainer at SeaWorld. Or a park ranger. Or a mailman. (I love to sort)

Okay internet friends, if you've gotten to the bottom of this overly-long post I want to know what made you choose the path you've taken in life? If you could go back and do it all over, what would you do differently? Can't wait to read your answers!

p.s. And Anne, Corine's teacher totally thinks you are trying to suck up. Just kidding! She probably doesn't!

(yes she does)


  1. I often think about the road that I have taken to be where I am and I don't know if I will ever be able to answer that. Part of the answer is mistakes, it seems life has a sick way of throwing you curve balls and hitting you in the nuts leaving you laying there drooling on yourself making bad decisions but I think if you sat down with all of your friends from school a large majority of them if not all would have a similar story as different as they all may be. Coming out of high school and college I had a plan that I hoped to follow, when I was gonna get married and when I was gonna have kids and what I wanted to do in life and sadly most all of that didn't fall within my plan. The things I have done for work or where I have lived have all just happened for one unexpected reason or another. Since I haven't been able to answer that question, I have learned to tell myself that things just happen for a reason that we will see many years down the road.

  2. Huh. Very interesting; I thought you'd say "to get the summers off". It's just one of those professions that I don't think I could do, but I'm glad that there are people out there that want to. Especially subbing...yikes. That's scary.

    I wanted to get a degree in English, but I didn't want to be a teacher, so that kinda ended that.

    I knew it! Thanks for the confirmation on the suck up thing. I'll stop emailing her everyday. Just kidding! I don't email her everyday.

    (yes I do)

  3. P.S. Thanks for wanting to teach, Sarah. See, I was just sucking up there wasn't I??

  4. I've been thinking about answering this since I read your post yesterday.
    The question boils down to "What the fuck happened to me?" and I ask it increasingly often, with (so far) disappointing results.
    I think the short answer is: my career was chosen by attrition. I just slowly carved away all the stuff I could not tolerate until I hit on something I could stand doing for a few years.
    I never really had much interest in the "soft" sciences or liberal arts.
    I went to college in what amounts to a pre-med track (biology, chemistry, anatomy/physiology etc.), but also took a bunch of engineering courses because I thought they would be more interesting than they really were.
    It didn't take long to decide that a career in physical engineering wasn't for me; it took slightly longer to figure out a career in medicine (with a side trip through a retrovirology diagnostics lab courtesy of the U.S. Army) also wasn't for me.
    At college (my first four years, anyway) I did a lot of manual labor jobs: pulling wood veneer on a green-chain, millwright's assistant, mill maintenance, Christmas tree farmer, etc. None of those jobs was really a potential career.
    While I was in the military, though, I wrote some automation software to run on our small network at the lab just to have something to do. Paperless automation was a big hit there, by the way. Paper was constantly getting contaminated in the lab. I also took a side job writing database software for a small company near our apartment. I know, you're saying "What for, Jared?! Army pay for enlisted personnel in Washington D.C. is more than generous, you greedy prick!!", and you're right. I'm just addicted to feeding my family (I believe at the time my actual take-home pay was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 a month).
    Looking back, that software job was pretty lame, but it was my first experience getting paid for something I'd been tinkering with for most of my life. It seemed too good to be true that a hobby could pay off in that way, so I stayed at it until I left the Army to return to school - as a Computer Science major.
    Like you, I soon learned the folly of a college education in terms of the practical aspects of my newly chosen vocation. The technical material was useful, but CS offered no "this is how the business world uses computer scientists" classes. I now know why: there would be no computer scientists if they offered those classes.
    Software developers (good ones) tend to be pretty well organized in their thinking, and are trained to decompose problems to understand the component parts that comprise systems. Businesses who employ software developers, on the other hand, tend to be run by the diametric opposite personality type (very emotionally driven and less detail oriented), making for a rocky relationship at best, and a bloodbath at worst (I have *many* stories of actual carnage on the job site...ask me about the time my boss was found on top of a desk at Hewlett-Packard, apparently fist-fighting a workstation - that is not a witty exaggeration). That's why you don't see developers who can stay at a given job more than a couple of years, on average.
    Now, after fifteen years doing the same basic thing, for like eleven different employers, I know a bunch of stuff I no longer care to know, but I'm kind of locked in at this point - nothing else pays as much for as little personal investment - at least until the bottom drops out of my industry.

    So, to recap:
    Poet? Nope.
    Sociologist/Psychologist? Don't you have to care about people for that to really work out?
    Writer? Nope.
    Manual laborer? Sounds more appealing every year, and I may well return to it (e.g. Jared the gentleman farmer)
    Doctor? Hmmm, that looks interesting...oh, holy shit, NOOOOOOO!
    Engineer? Zzzzzzzzzzzz......
    Software developer? Whatev - until something more interesting comes along, anyway.

  5. Oh Jared, you hit the nail on the head when you said that you whittled away the things you could not tolerate. That is what I did too, in a sense. I'm such a prissy primadonna when it comes to how I spend my time and I won't do things that I think are a waste of my life. I don't do manual labor because it's hard and really heavy and tiring. I don't work retail because I LOATHE John Q. Public. I didn't go into any of the sciences because although I find it fascinating, thinking about string theory and quarks gives me a headache and makes me feel incredibly stupid. The list of things I wont' do is long and doesn't leave much. I can't stand noise so I don't know how I ended up as an educator, much less a parent, but what can I say? I think I'd be a good librarian.

  6. Sarah,
    I think most people are the same. We all thought we would go to school and " become" something, only to find out school doesn't actually make you into something. You are still the same dumb kid four or so (seven for me) years older with a few more tidbits of knowledge and no job. The "Oh shit I need to find something to do" settles in fast and we stumble through the next few months, years, decades trying to find something we can live with and maybe call a "career".
    I was very fortunate in my floundering. I worked for xerox for a few months before being fired for not working well with authority, sold appliances right after that and hated every minute then finally settled into my career in the material handling industry where I pretty much make all the shots and there is no pesky "authority" to get in my way. Did I mention that I have an International Relations and German double major... Yeah that's right.
    John Lennon once said "life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans". Truer words were never spoken.
    Don't get me wrong. I love my profession. I would never do anything else by choice. I actually enjoy everyday and look forward to the next one. We've been fortunate to be able to afford the finer things in life. My lovely bride was able to "retire" several years ago.
    My point? We make ourselves and if we can wake up every morning and not dread the day ahead of us, we've won.

  7. Beautifully said, Mark. I don't dread the day ahead of me 99% of the time, and usually I'm pretty happy to wake up in the morning to see what the day has in store. I guess it's all about attitude isn't it? You have to make the choice to be happy or not.

  8. I actually belong to a Facebook Group called "I Picked A Major I Like, and One Day I Will Probably Be Living In A Box" should join! I went to Mankato State for one year and most of my classes were Poli/Sci or Lib Arts. Then I transferred to UMD, met my One True Love, went to my advisor one day midway through my senior year and said, "What gets me out of here the fastest? I want to get married." I had a heavy pile of History, Geography, Philosophy, all "soft" (thanks, Jared) stuff. So I ended up with a double major in History and Geography and a minor in American Studies. Puh-please!!? They don't even let you teach with all that crap unless you go back and get a "Social Studies Teaching Minor", which I did not do. I currently answer phones and schedule appointments for an orthodontist who hates me. But my mom is proud. :-)


I would love your comments.