When you’re 17 years old, society asks you what you want to do with your life. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” “What kind of job do you picture yourself doing?” “What major do you want to join?” This last question was the hardest for me to answer.
The average life expectancy of a female living in the United States when I was born was 75 years. That means that at the age of 17, I still had 58 years of life left. How was I supposed to know how I wanted to spend them? Hell, I had had a hard enough time figuring out what I wanted to do during those first 17 years! When I was young, I knew I loved school – reading, writing, and (contrary to what my close friends might believe now) math were some of my favorite things to do. I also loved playing make-believe – being a dragon-fighting princess, cooking a 4-course meal for the queen, and becoming a mermaid in my grandmother’s pool. Though I had all of these passions as a younger girl, I wasn’t ready to “pick one,” so to speak. Even still, my elementary school teachers insisted on asking “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” As if I was ready to say, “I want to be a princess; sign me up for finishing school!”
But I wasn’t ready. And still, at T minus 58 years and counting, I wasn’t ready when they asked me to pick a major. I still really loved reading and writing, so much so that I wanted to be a novelist, journalist, or magazine editor – something that would allow me to make money doing those things. When I started researching college majors in my senior year of high school, I pretty much found my niche in English. But every time I told someone that I wanted to be an English major, they would sit me down and give me the prodigal “Son” speech. That’s the one that starts “Son, let me give you a piece of advice” – a speech that so many older-than-me people felt compelled to give whenever I tried to make any life decision. (Why they kept insisting that I make these decisions for myself then, I’ll never understand.) These particular strains of “Son” speeches were pretty much all saying the same thing: You can’t make a career out of the English major. There isn’t any direction to go in once you graduate with an English degree. Where are all the “English” jobs?
So, because they were worried about my general well-being (or so I have to remind myself), people started giving me suggestions for majors to pick from. I heard all the time “Why don’t you go into teaching English? You love kids, and it’ll give you a chance to stay connected to all the things about English that you love!” I started thinking about teaching as a way to maintain a steady income (albeit, a meager one) and be exposed to ELA content all the time, and it really excited me. So, at the age of 17, I signed up to be an English Education major.
College was a very formative part of my life. For a while (a few years, actually), I was really happy in my education classes – learning the theory surrounding ELA teaching. I was also taking a bunch of English classes that kept my needs to read and write satisfied as well. But I was being exposed to English majors in these classes and all that they were doing – research symposiums, novel work, literary magazine submissions, blogging, and a whole plethora of other really exciting ways to show off their talents and interests. And there I was, learning about Vygotsky and Bloom’s taxonomy, pushing myself to figure out what kind of lesson planning format I wanted to use.
Now, I’m not discounting the work of teachers. It is A LOT of work that is integral to the education system (obviously) and to the benefit of our society as a whole. But when I got into my senior year of college and started student teaching, I hated it. It wasn’t the kids; most of them were really cool and liked to joke around with me in the down times. It wasn’t the classroom management; I could get used to having to say “I’ll wait” every two minutes and “I can’t hear you over So-and-So” every 30 seconds. It wasn’t the other teachers; they were actually very supportive in this time when the kids saw me as just a sub. It wasn’t the meetings; I only had to go to those two or three times a week. No, it wasn’t any of these individual things. Rather, it was all of them together at the same time that bothered me.
I started having more and more anxiety attacks because I knew that there would be more and more to do every time I took over another class from my cooperating teacher. I got behind on my lesson plans because there were always lesson plans to be doing. I got freaked out at being put on display as much as I was; 8 hours of 30 pairs of eyes staring at you, waiting for you to give them some sort of ground-breaking instruction will start to freak you out at some point. Now, it wasn’t the hard work that pushed me to start questioning my choice in major. Just one semester before this, I had written a 107-page document that was a unit plan for student teaching specifically. I had been through years of college with each year requiring me to deal with a college workload. I could have dealt with the workload of student teaching for the last few months that I was supposed to be doing it. The problem was that I hated what I was doing. For a month, I was trying to push myself to like it because I knew that it was expected of me to continue on this path and to finish my college career with a degree in teaching. But when something you’re doing causes you to have that much anxiety and angst about just going to the place that you’re doing it in – I would get serious stomach and head aches just thinking about going to the school each morning – you need to realize that it probably isn’t for you.
So I reevaluated my choice in major. I came to the conclusion that over the years, what had been getting me through my schoolwork was the interest I had in my English classes and the things that the English majors were doing in those classes. After the first two weeks of student teaching, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. Learning the theory of teaching had been great, but putting those things into practice was vastly different than I had ever imagined it would be. I spent the next two weeks hating life because I really thought that there was no way for me to be happy and that I was stuck like that. But then, during a sick day from student teaching, I realized that I wasn’t stuck; I had the ability to change my major, and I was going to do it because it was what I wanted for myself and needed for my sanity.
So, here I am, a week after the month that changed my life. There are an estimated 54 years left of that life, and I will be spending them reading, writing, taking pictures (which is another HUGE passion of mine), and making time for myself and the people I love. I hope to get into online publication (having my own website will definitely help in that regard). I want to be a photo journalist, magazine editor, blogger, novelist, [insert passion here]. The options are literally limitless because now I’m an English major with the realization that the next three months of my college career won’t be spent agonizing over lesson plans, classroom management evaluations, staff meetings, or any other realm of teaching that I didn’t want to be a part of. Again, I’m not knocking teachers – we need them. So, if you’re a teacher (or an aspiring educator) who really wants to be teaching, then please keep doing so. I implore you to remain in your place of glory. But never compromise what you want to do for what you think people want you to be doing. I don’t have to teach, and that is a liberating realization. Your own liberation could come in the form of anything – realizing you don’t have to stay in that relationship that is hurting you, that job that sucks, or that friendship that’s been the same negative crutch for years. We are never stuck, so don’t compromise on what matters. Do what you’re passionate about.