To be, or not to be: this is (part of) the question . . .
November 1, 2011 8:00 AM   Subscribe

TL;DR in advance: English MA grad, wondering what to do with his life. A lot

I am in my later thirties, and went back to college after years of being a sort of Iohannes fac totum (metalworker, woodworker, salesman, theater tech., waitstaff, retail, you name it). I finished an AA, then BA, then I earned an MA in English, and was very involved with the English department at my university. I taught Comp. and Rhet. and was a Grad Assistant for a couple years. I excelled in that environment—it was a really supportive department, with brilliant teachers, and a sense of collegiality I haven’t found elsewhere. (I have been in school for the past eight years, non-stop.)

Then, I thought, “I love teaching! I should be a teacher!” So I went for another Master’s—this time for Secondary Education. I am almost finished with the program, and recently had a very, very bad experience with student teaching. I certainly own part of that, but I had a “mentor” who was unhelpful, unsupportive, and it devolved into naked hostility at the end. It was enough to move me to pull out temporarily for the semester with the intention (maybe) of returning in the spring.

But this whole experience has attuned me to some messages that I was not maybe aware of before, and I don’t know that I do want to teach public school. I loved teaching at the university, but I am older, and the PhD track isn’t for me, I don’t think. (I missed that boat, job outlook is really bleak for humanities, etc.) I don’t think that I can live comfortably on an adjunct’s salary.

I do proofreading and copyediting on the side, but that’s not an established business—it’s really been work for colleagues and friends, though I might be able to expand. Despite the disjointed nature of this question (writing as process?) I write and communicate very well in general, and could work in any job that required me to write copy or be creative with language. (I wish I could make money off of poetry!)

Another piece of the puzzle is that I live with my SO, we’ve been together for 7 years, and she is essentially doing the exact same thing as I am, only one semester behind. She is finishing up her degree and currently working as an adjunct. We both are coming to the realization that we have a lot of misgivings about public education (as a failing/failed system, teaching within that system, and all of the other “stuff” that is part of teaching.)

We joke about running a small press together (like Leonard and Ginny Woolf!) but honestly, I do not know what to DO with my life. (my SO either!) We’re night-owls, we like flexibility (but we’re open to “regular” 9 to 5 jobs), we are in love and want to make a life together. We are really smart people—we’re simply unsure how to direct those smarts. We obviously do not have to do the same thing, but I’m including this because I think it may potentially open up suggestions to things we can both do, as a team.

There are a lot of people on MeFi that have cool and interesting jobs, and many who have similar educational backgrounds. I’m hoping some of you can help guide me (and maybe my SO) in the right direction! (I'll be stopping in to respond and clarify, and will take any private responses via MeMail, if people want to respond that way)
posted by exlotuseater to Work & Money (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any reason you cannot look into teaching in a non-public-school environment? Private schools, tutoring, test prep, etc can all be ways of being a teacher without dealing with the unpleasantnesses of the public school system (or course there are other unpleasantnesses...) I'd also suggest not giving up on the idea of public school teaching after only one bad experience. There are many different kinds of school systems and schools, and it's possible it was just a bad fit.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on November 1, 2011

IMO online education is a thing of the future. Read up on Khan Academy and its success. I think they have a formula that can be replicated in many ways, because the need is so great. You can do what you do and be flexible, making products that can aid hard working teachers in their classrooms. And as a bonus, you can help improve the public education system too.
posted by cross_impact at 8:48 AM on November 1, 2011

Get your teacher qualifications and then open a tiny, expensive school that is not quite regular sized and not quite one-on-one home schooling. Tiny classes for superintensive schooling.

Stress the basics -- make sure the kids come out with a super solid understanding of the things they are supposed to learn at that age in that state -- but offer a strange icing on the cake that is basically an amalgam of both of your favorite things to teach. Just wrap it in a philosophy that makes it sound like the only right way to teach kids rather than just an excuse for you to spend a lot of time teaching your favorite things.
Some classes you could offer:
Critical Eye - you and the kids watch a television show, discuss it, watch it again, write about it, and rewrite it.
Discretion - discrete math for kiddies, all based on problems from social networking.
Simpleton - kids examine the systems and practices of a make-believe town and find ways to make them simpler and better.
Access - kids develop web pages for people with various combinations of disabilities and test them themselves (blindfolded, etc.) and with people who actually have those disabilities.
Big Deal - kids examine big problems and try to think of solutions.
Sell Out - entrepreneurship by developing and selling actual products, including competing products from different teams.
posted by pracowity at 9:24 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Okay. Student teaching SUCKS, even when you're with a good mentor. I'm actually a Master Teacher right now, with my very own student teacher (who is teaching RIGHT NOW...don't tell), and it's definitely a struggle at the best of times.

Here's the thing: That was one experience. I've taught at 5 schools and some have been AWFUL, and some are great. If I had been a student teacher at the school in which I worked last year, I would have quit (honestly, one of the student teachers there DID quit with only a few weeks left).

Lots of teachers are burnt out and have retired without telling anyone. You don't have to be like that, and it sounds like you actually enjoy the process of teaching.

I guess my advice is this: if you can, find a school that gets solid rating on somewhere like Email or call the office and ask if you can spend a day visiting. Try to see an AP English class as well as other classes that reach across the spectrum of what's offered in terms of levels, abilities, grade, teacher style, etc. Then see what you think. What you experienced may have been really different from what other schools can offer. And on behalf of master teachers everywhere, I'd like to apologise for the suckiness of yours. I'm really sorry for that. It's a problem in this profession, and it really makes me sad.

It does get better. I promise. Don't judge teaching by student teaching. Memail me if you want - I'm happy to talk to you about the reality of teaching to see if it's something that might work for you.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:39 AM on November 1, 2011

A lot of colleges do hire people like you to teach freshman composition classes. Check your local community colleges and see if they're hiring. And don't give up on public schools, they're the only option for most children and they really need more smart, talented, creative people like you as teachers. Look at other districts, look at public charter schools.

I have heard of jobs proofreading textbooks, but don't know where to find them.
posted by mareli at 9:43 AM on November 1, 2011

Check out You can work in literacy programs or teach in community colleges at the Basic English and freshmen level. It's a very underrepresented level of teaching and they need more instructors who *want* to teach at that level. This is what I'm planning to do - I'm in the last semester of my Master's program in English and I'm a full decade older than you.
posted by patheral at 1:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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