Thursday, February 14, 2013

There is no frigate like a book. . .

My daughter is studying poetry in school where she has not told her teacher that her mother's a poet. She reads Silverstein and the children-focused poets and says "Meh, they're okay, I guess" and she shrugs.  But then.  Then.  Then she reads someone and falls in love.  She reads Dickinson to me and she asks how I like it and if I like it and shifts uncomfortably when I read her Billy Collins or Rita Dove or Sherman Alexie or someone (anyone!) but Dickinson. She tells me trivia she’s learned from a Wikipedia page or some Scholastic book.  "Did you know she never left the house?  Did you know she wanted her poetry burned but her sister couldn't do it and published it posthumously?"

I am reminded of that day, in the middle of some dark teenage funk that I announced to Mr. Mercer's creative writing class that Dickinson’s final wish should have been fulfilled. That her words, committed to paper, piled upon each other should have been sparked into a glorious bonfire never to be studied by surly tenth graders. I don't know why I disliked her so. Maybe it was Tuesday.  I wrote weird Kerouac-inspired poems and turned my nose up at her nature-based poetry just because. I reeked of patchouli and had a chip on my teenage shoulder, I guess. I didn't meet Dickinson in the poetry reading-filled coffee shops I frequented so I didn't have much use for her. And for whatever reason, that chip has remained on my shoulder since.

And now here I am and my daughter is in love with Emily Dickinson and I love my daughter. Dickinson has provided her that first spark to light the fire for poetry inside of her.  Whether she grows to be a writer or not, I get the distinct impression that my daughter now understands that words on the page are more than just letters put together to communicate - but to convey meaning in ways that are somehow indescribable.  Thank heaven for that. And, I guess, thank history for the sister who defied a final wish and compiled Emily Dickinson's pages into volumes that would be flint instead of kindling.

Monday, February 11, 2013

When I Grow Up. . .

Often, mid-lecture, while discussing their futures, I will tell my students that I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. We'll be talking about transferring credits or financial aid or what have you and I will tell them that I once heard the average American changes careers seven times during their working life. And how I have always known that when I grew up I wanted to teach. But where?  How?

And I guess in some ways that question remains.

I have been an English composition adjunct now since I graduated college - at private, state, and community colleges.  I've loved every classroom - every set of students.  For those I've kept in touch with - I feel a special sort of pleasure watching their careers unfold before them - be they academic or elsewhere.  I love everything about that part of the job.

And yet.  The fact remains - I am working the job of a college adjunct.  Low pay. No benefits.  Little feedback or reward from my employer.  My faculty-titled colleagues do good work to help offset the nature of my job - they are supportive and complimentary, and I appreciate that.  Their feedback - and the excitement and engagement of my students - is what drives me to continue as an educator.

But I think it's time for a change.

Is that change to pick up more contract work, like many modern adjunct employees? Stretch myself between two or three schools - representing, to my best ability, the interests of all of them?  To pick up writing or blogging or editing work?  To look into licensing for K-12 and take my MA and 10+ years of teaching experience back to school, incurring debt to ensure a possibly potentially maybe future career?  To continue to toss my hat in the overly crowded ring at various community colleges and hope that my application stands out over the 200 or 300 or 400 other applications they have received?  To effectively up the ante and invest in pursuing a PhD in order to fight this fight again with higher stakes at a higher level that would likely require uprooting my family?

It is no surprise to me that educators at every level fight their natural desire to teach and abandon this system.  Frankly, I guess, I'm surprised when my colleagues show up and keep showing up - their love for and commitment to education overpowering their more logical and rational desires - like reasonable pay, insurance, or stability.

I guess, right now, the answer for me is to try a lot of things and see what happens.  And, above all else, to just keep teaching.
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