Passion, Profit, and Proactivity

It’s  2011, and I’ve been teaching since November at a public high school, hence the egregious inactivity here. I’d been pulling 80+ hour weeks, working from 7 am to at least 4 pm at school, coming home and promptly secluding myself upstairs to work on lessons and grading until about 10 or so, taking about 20 minutes to eat something completely uninspired.

Anyone who’s been exposed to a media outlet at all in the last several months has information on the situation in Wisconsin. It  has really put a spotlight on teachers, and whether or not they are slacking leeches sucking at the teat of government and churning out masses of undereducated Twitter addicts, or selfless unsung heroes, nobly fighting the good fight and battling tooth-and-nail to combat the pernicious maxim  “those who can’t, teach,” by working their asses off to do their best to educate in their content area.

I’m not going to elaborate on this debate, I’m afraid (although I believe that the state of education is deeply damaged and in critical condition in America, and many, many teachers are truly putting heart, soul, creativity and financial stability on the line every day to try and work against this trend.)

Instead, I want to contemplate some of the things I’ve learned about myself from not only this current teaching post, but also my past teaching positions, in order to organize my thoughts more cohesively into a plan for the future.

My deep narcissism, let me show you it? Well, perhaps. But then again, if you do not examine what has gone wrong and what has gone right in your professional life, if you don’t consider both the aspects of work that have kept you in a flow state until the dark hours of the night and the aspects that turned those hours into mud made from despair and tears, how can you make a conscious decision about where the path could lead? A path that has the potential to make you fulfilled and happy?

So.

My teaching job ends on June 3rd, and I get paychecks until the end of July. This gives me the almost unimaginable luxury of three months (granted, I’ll be working full-time for two of them) to contemplate and work towards what will best suit me and what will make me happy, inspired and financially stable.

What I Enjoy:

  • Books. Oh, most of all, books. The YA, the classic literature, the modern classics, genre fiction — any book that propels me into a well-told story, which introduces me to compelling characters,  or makes me read a sentence or a paragraph again for the sheer lyricism or humor of the writing — this is my ultimate passion. I spend time and money reading, writing about, thinking about and talking about books, poetry and language.
  • Writing. Not the soulless matching of standards to a template that is never read, and filed away to satisfy a checklist for accreditation, but creating vibrant, collaborative lectures, creative assignments and using new technology to help students relate on a creative, humanistic and relevant level to the books examined in English classes.

I’m not going to go into the things that take away from teaching, but suffice it to say that after doing a lot of thinking about the field and my own strengths and limitations, I’ve decided that full-time teaching is not meeting my cost-benefit ratio; that is, the pleasure and fulfillment I am getting from it are unbalanced with the stresses and pains. It’s something that’s not really going to change, unless the education system morphs to fit my needs. And even I am not narcissistic or idealistic enough to expect that.

So what else am I good at? What do I spend my time on, even when I’m not making any kind of profit from it, except pleasure?

  • Writing. I’m a good writer, especially non-fiction writing, and I’m a fairly quick writer. I’ve been getting freelance jobs here and there, and it’s working out better than I expected.
  • Organizing. If you believe in astrology, and I do (on alternate Tuesdays and days when I have consumed more than three tequila-based drink,) I’m a consummate Virgo. I can organize about anything, from paperwork to parties to people.
  • Editing. I’m good at editing on a sentence level, and also, since I’m a ridiculously fast reader, I’m also good at reading other people’s writing, fiction, non-fiction or academic writing, and clarifying, suggesting and tightening. I am very good, and could become a pro.
  • I’m very logical, and give very good advice.
  • My house may not quite reflect it the way I want to quite yet, but I love decorating. Not shmancy post-post-deconstructed modernist school of Bauhahooeycakes, but real-people decor.
  • Beauty. I was a make-up artist for a while in grad school, and am pretty knowledgeable about skin care and cosmetics.
  • Research. I am widely read, know a little about a lot, and a lot about quite a bit, and am able to call upon a pretty far-flung and eclectic range of experts, in addition to Google-fu and more academic and esoteric researching skills.

I’ve landed a consulting position with an educational company writing this spring, and have a connection to a freelancing gig that’s monthly, when I finally have time to do ANYTHING that’s not directly related to my teacher position. In the past months, I have barely been able to talk to my husband, much less keep up with my friends, family, house or other interests…and it’s frickin’ KILLING me.

I am going to try to establish myself as an independent contractor, and try to become a full-time consultant focusing on writing-based areas — educational, essays and blog-based writing, editing and research for writers. I will have time in June and July to really come up with a workable, realistic plan, expand my portfolio,  network and perhaps gain a mentor.  I have no intentions of remaining home if I’m not bringing in enough income in the first months of consultancy, but I won’t be teaching if I don’t. Life’s too short to spend 80 hours a week doing stuff that’s only 15% fulfilling, and I can get a part-time job that I don’t have to drag home with me to fill in any money gaps.

Pride and exasperation have held me back from really thinking about this change– I am really GOOD at teaching, when I’m on. But I’m not “on” all the time, and so many things about it I just plain don’t like to do. I also spent a lot of money training to be certified. And there’s the pride thang — that I have all these degrees and I should say to someone “Oh, I’m working at Macy’s/as an admin assistant/as a sheep shearer…” or whatever I’d be doing if I need to pay the bills, and Buddha forbid, they should sneer at me and think I’m not smart?!

I’m toying with the radical notion that I don’t have to fit myself and my skills and yes, my pretty damned impressive smarts, into some pigeonhole so that someone about whom I don’t care won’t sneer at me at cocktail parties I don’t even go to.

It might be dangerous. It might be crazy. It might be a hell of a lot of hard work establishing myself.

But it also might work out just fine.

I’ll never know if I don’t try. And I’ve already got one foot on the path — might as well walk up the mountain. I’ll carry a map, watch my water levels, monitor the skies for storms. And the view? It could be beautiful.

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