Image: Mean Girls (2004)
I first left teaching in 2011, after a short adjuncting stint at a community college in Kansas City. I’d been disheartened by how much effort I was putting into my work and how little I was getting paid for it. I didn’t blame my department or boss at the time; they were good people. I blamed the system.
I look back now and realize, damn, that was a rough year. I had a newborn, a new city, and a new job, not to mention the stress of trying to finish my dissertation (doing things I didn’t know how to do) far from my home department. Write? I knew how to do that. But work on a dissertation without the weekly/monthly meetings with my committee members? Whoa. Add financial instability on top of all that. My husband and I were both freelancers, basically. Neither of us had a contract or a job we could count on past the semester/baseball season. We had no health insurance for almost a year, and the state of Kansas refused to give me Medicaid. It was rough. Thank you, WIC and student loans.
After that year, I faced a hard choice: Either I could keep teaching so my CV wouldn't go stale, or I could find a job with benefits and a regular paycheck … and let my CV go stale. So I left the classroom, and found a great job at the Writing Center of the University of Kansas.
But then, in the fall of 2013, my then-husband got a job in Houston and we relocated again. I went back to adjunct work, this time at a medical center, teaching graduate students in the biomedical sciences. Once more, adjunct teaching left me disheartened so when the opportunity came to take over as editor of the professional newsletter Women in Higher Education, I jumped at it.
Truth is, as a teacher, I always felt insecure about my abilities. That probably has a lot to do with my personality (I'm a perfectionist) but I'm sure it also has something to do with the way I was trained to teach in graduate school — or rather not trained. It was trial by fire. I was thrown into a classroom for the first time, after a meeting with other teaching assistants and told to teach; like in a pool, it was sink or swim. I didn't get professional development and support until later in graduate school.
In those early years, many of my college mates helped me. We talked day in and day out about what worked in the classroom and what didn't. I learned to be a teacher by asking others, and sharing with others. But I was never confident about what I was doing.
When I left the classroom to become a freelance editor full-time, I felt the relief of not having to worry about "teaching right." I felt confident about my abilities as an editor. And even though I screw things up on a regular basis, I bounce back from my editing and writing mistakes much faster mentally than I ever did as a teacher. I can't see myself not writing. Ever.
One morning not long ago, I received an email from a former student of mine at that Kansas City community college. Somehow she had found me online, and wanted to thank me for making a difference in her education. She's now seeking a master's degree at a public university. She said I inspired her. In turn, she inspired me to write this post.
On days like that, I miss being a teacher.