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April 28, 2008 10:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I reconcile two different and conflicting plans for my future? (long-ish explanation)

I'm about to graduate from college and have been thinking a lot about my "future" as it were. I'm graduating with a degree in Literature and a vested interest and passion for education. I also work in a restaurant to make money.

I've worked in restaurants for a few years now and love the subculture, carefree attitude and flexibility that it affords. Recently, I've considered moving to Hawaii when I graduate and just spending time there, working in a restaurant (the place I work for has multiple locations in Hawaii - Roy's) and hiking, surfing and cooking during the days.

I've also considered joining Teach for America or a similar organization after graduating and going straight to the classroom. I'm really passionate about education and am an advocate for educational reform, especially in under-resourced schools.

The problem is basically this: I would love to go to Hawaii and THEN start teaching in a classroom (I feel a little ridiculous jumping into a classroom and spouting out life-lessons at 21), but I can't shake the feeling of selfishness and guilt at not devoting everything to the cause. I guess I'm trying to decide whether my life for the next few years should be a sensual or a humanitarian one.

Can anyone recommend some books, articles, etc that would help me find some direction? Also if there are any teachers that have experience teaching straight out of college, would you recommend it? I just need some perspective and general life advice at this point.
posted by brynna to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
No-brainer to me: Go to Hawaii now. You're young and can do it easily. Later, it will be hard, as relationships and mortgages and jobs will lock you to the ground somewhere.

It's not as if your degree will evaporate or become less valuable. Literature isn't exactly a field in which one needs up-to-the-minute training, and the time you spend in the real world (in Hawaii, or somewhere more exotic, maybe) will make you a better teacher and mentor.

Also, some travel and life experience might get over the notion that you can change the world by teaching English. :)
posted by rokusan at 11:00 PM on April 28, 2008


It's not necessarily that I think I can change the world (I'd like to think I'm not that naive) but it's about how to just accept that fact and live guilt-free.
posted by brynna at 11:11 PM on April 28, 2008


I think rokusan is on to something - think about how having more (really cool) life experiences will eventually make you a much better mentor. Your students will appreciate it, and you'll be happier too.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:15 PM on April 28, 2008


This is not an existential problem. This is a logic problem.

There is a pretty narrow funnel of choices here. You have two options in which you are interested. Option A you can exercise at virtually any time; option B you can realistically exercise only for the next few years.

Go with B.

I honestly think your internal angst is misplaced, which is not unexpected in transitional phases. You're looking at potentially devoting the next 40 years of your life to teaching. You really, really do not need to sweat the two or three years you spend dicking around before you get there. Lighten up. You're 21, for pete's sake. Go have some fun.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:30 PM on April 28, 2008


If you're serious about educational reform, you probably ought to steer clear of T4A. If this isn't immediately obvious to you, you would definitely befit from spending a few years doing other things and thinking about it. Go West young man.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:34 PM on April 28, 2008


Ex-teacher's suggestion: move to HI. Work in a restaurant.

If you're interested in public schools, do some substitute teaching. In most places, you can sub without a teaching credential (don't know what HI does). Experience different schools, different grades. You may realize that you don't really want to be a teacher, or that you do, and your inspiration will take more concrete, specific forms.

Experience some of the alternative educational models/philosophies - see what you think of Montessori schools.

Enjoy.
posted by coffeefilter at 11:50 PM on April 28, 2008


Frankly, you should be aiming to change the world, or at least your little corner of it.

There will be many things that you will want to do in your life. You can't possibly do all of them at the same time but, G-d willing, you will live long enough to accomplish them all. Think about what you would like your life to include over the next decade and seek out options that open doors to the future that you want. So, it is OK to go to Hawaii first with a plan to go into teaching later.

My guess is that after a while working restaurants, you will have had enough and be ready to return to the mainland and teach. (Or get a full-time teaching job in Hawaii). In that case, the decision of when to go on to the next stage will be obvious when the time comes.

Also, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing option. If you go to Hawaii, is there a way that you can lend a helping hand to local children - perhaps volunteering to tutor in an after school program? start a book discussion group? help out in a classroom?
posted by metahawk at 11:53 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe you can do both.

Fifteen percent of the residents of Hawaii County, Hawaii live below the poverty level. American Indian and Alaska Native race/ethnicity demographic group, represents the largest rate of poverty with 37.2 percent of the people in Year 2000 living in poverty. Hawaii isn't a paradise for everyone. I've spoken with people who were born in Hawaii who couldn't wait to get off of the island when they graduated, which surprised me at the time, but I didn't grow up there.

Perhaps there are programs for schools there where you can volunteer and make a difference. Get some experience under your belt, keep something education-related on your resume while waiting tables, and have some fun in Hawaii as well.
posted by jeanmari at 5:03 AM on April 29, 2008


It's not necessarily that I think I can change the world (I'd like to think I'm not that naive) but it's about how to just accept that fact and live guilt-free.

I'm 28 years old. When I was 21, I went into teaching, straight from college! Excited! Ready! Passionate! By the end of the school year, I hated it with the force of a thousand firey comets, slamming into planets, causing massive extinction events, turning hadrosaurs into surprised-looking pieces of ash, leaving craters in the Yucatan. Sweet fucking Christ on a bike, did I come to hate teaching.

Sometimes, when you teach, you have that moment where you see a child has just internalized some hard-to-grasp concept, and you know you've made a difference in that kid's life, and you feel really excited about human potential. And sometimes you're just getting a close-up first-hand look at the way that institutionalized racism, sexism and classism are being perpetuated in each new generation, and you (read: me) spend your (read: my) evenings weeping and feeling nauseous.

The difficulties of teaching, and the ways in which pathological social patterns remain entrenched, got drilled into me into college. So when I took my post-college teaching job (at a Teach For America kind of organization), I thought I was properly psychologically prepared. I was not. I had no idea just how emotionally draining it was going to be. I felt sick all the time, unable to decouple myself from thoughts about the classroom but seized by paralysis in the face of societal forces I couldn't possibly help these kids out of. So I burned out, and I haven't taught since. And hey, I'm way happier now.

Some folks don't burn out, god bless 'em. They start teaching right out of college, they keep going, they make a difference, they don't freak out and seize up, they keep going. I am very, very, very happy that such people exist. May they live long and fruitful lives and may all their children be healthy.

Looking back, I've thought a lot about how these folks could keep teaching while I couldn't. And I think the answer is that I was just too young. I went straight from a hardcore academic environment to a hardcore job environment, and I lacked the kind of post-college experience that brings with it The Serenity To Accept The Things I Cannot Change. At the age of 28, I feel a little bit wiser now than I was at 21, and I think that at this point, I'd be able to handle teaching a hell of a lot better than I did back then. Why was I in such a rush? Why did I feel like I needed to go into teaching at 21, rather than say, 30? Because at 21, it was hard for me to realize that 30 was not going to be past my prime. 21 bred a sense of urgency to Fix Problems Right Now and Let's Not Waste Time and Let's Get Going Already and Dammit People There Are Kids To Save.

If I were you, I would follow metahawk and jeanmari's advice above: go to Hawaii for a bit, follow your heart's desire while still doing a bit of extra teaching work on the side to keep you focused on pedagogy, and keep in mind that you will eventually come back to teaching. But hey, I'm not you, and we may be very different people. Like I said, there are plenty of folks I know who went straight into teaching and kept doing it. Maybe you're one of those people. However: speaking just for myself: I wish I could go back in time to 21-year-old me and tell him, "Calm the fuck down, ya goon. Take it slow, pace yourself. Give yourself time to explore, stop thinking in such a goal-oriented way about your role in this civilization. It's going to help you in the long run."

So: Hawaii restaurant. Think long.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:56 AM on April 29, 2008 [8 favorites]


You're going to have the rest of your life to work. If you can, travel and experience life now. Then you'll be an even better teacher later.
posted by hulahulagirl at 9:16 AM on April 29, 2008


When all of my friends were applying to serious jobs at the end of university, I decided I needed to explore a little first, for a lot of the reasons people have listed here. It usually doesn't get any easier to travel after you settle down, so if it's something you want to do, you should definitely do it now.

And I firmly believe that it's worthwhile, not just for yourself but for society. When I finished uni, I was a sort of adult, but I had no real world experience. I mean, yeah, I'd worked places and I'd traveled a little bit, and obviously successfully completed my degree, etc. But I had never lived somewhere where my only purpose in life was to make money to support myself so that I could eat and sleep somewhere safe. You really don't have to work all that hard to take care of basic necessities for yourself (when you live in first world countries). That left me with a lot of free time. I've learned so much about myself by learning the things I want to do and actually do when I have free time. I know the things that really motivate me, the things I love, the things I will seek out even if not for money. In the last three years of traveling and working random jobs I have learned so much about myself.

Now, I have a lot better perspective on the type of job I want to do long term. I've been able to narrow things down a lot, cut some possibilities out entirely, seen completely new paths I didn't know existed open up. And I truly believe that the best way to contribute to society is by finding something you really like to do (I'll hesitate to say 'love'; I'm not sure that's absolutely necessary or always possible) and then doing it really well. And like Greg Nog said up thread, I think by exploring yourself and the person you are and what motivates you will help you when you are ready to settle down with a more permanent job.

Also, I fully support the idea of doing volunteer work with children in Hawaii. Most places are ecstatic if someone can devote just a few hours a week. And you can do a lot if you want to. There are a lot of programs in this world just waiting to happen; they just need a motivated, creative person to come by and start them up.
posted by mosessis at 8:18 PM on April 29, 2008


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