The best piece of advice I can give someone going into the teaching profession is the following: Don’t forget work-life balance. Moreover, remember that, at the end of the day, teaching isn’t what it used to be — that is, a calling bordering on the divine. It’s more of a job, where you check off certain boxes and get paid. Yes, it is important to impart some of your wisdom off on your students. Yes, it is important to make sure they are taken care of, and, more importantly, it is pivotal that you aren’t some money-grubbing douche bag, who cares very little about the quality of education you doll out to your students. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, your sanity, your health, and your dreams are important, too. You don’t have to volunteer for every committee. You don’t have to always bust your ass to get noticed for three minutes by the VP, the dean, or your chair. Sometimes, just sometimes, life is worth experiencing. Binge watch that television show you’re six months behind on. Read that book you purchased two years ago and is collecting dust on your shelf. Go for a run. Play video games. Do something that isn’t related to teaching. It will make you a better teacher — trust me.
The second piece of advice is that you consider an exit strategy and avoid mission creep, to use the military vernacular. An exit strategy means you have a clear escape when the time comes. Don’t be one of those old curmudgeons who believes they know everything and that their word is as if it had been handed down by the gods. Know when to leave education. Failing to do so will result in some serious problems, especially for students. Students suffer when teachers have become dead in the eyes, dancing on the pole only to collect that paycheck.
My third piece of advice deals with those Ivory Tower mofos we all know and hate. They’re worshipped, despised, and, of course, read and taken far too seriously: The pedagogical theorists. I have to stay up-to-date when it comes to teaching development, especially when it comes to pedagogy, although I despise most pedagogical theorists because they’ve never actuallytaught in overcrowded classrooms, with odd state-mandated curricula. These same assholes are the ones who say to like everything, to be flexible, and to ignore fundamentals like grammar, spelling, punctuation, and mechanics. What’s my advice concerning these individuals and their work? Take it all with a grain of salt. Develop your own pedagogical theories based on your experiences in the classroom. If you’re any good at writing, consider sending out an article or two to help out your fellows in teaching. Real pedagogy comes from praxis. The theoretical garbage is just that, garbage. It should be shelved away with outdated ideas like astrology, numerology, and bloodletting. Anyways, I digress.
Most people think of the following phrase when it comes to teaching: those who don’t, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym [i.e., health and physical education at the collegiate level in New Mexico]. The stereotypes, the clichés, and the euphemisms don’t stop there. Teaching is often assumed to be an easy job, because you supposedly get the summers off. (Not always the case, folks, especially if you’re a junior faculty member, trying to get a promotion. Teaching in the summers means you’re doing a good deal of brown-nosing with folks in administration, who happen to be the same individuals signing off on your promotion paperwork after it gets finished with the committee in charge of such things.) On top of that, there’s a wonderful misconception about pay. Yeah, the pay ain’t bad, but I wouldn’t sprinkle sugar on this bullshit and call it candy, folks. A turd’s a turd, no matter how much sugar you sprinkle on top of it. Again, I digress. Then there are the long hours, including office hours no one, and I mean no one, shows up to, and the occasional soul-crushing meeting following by a shit-ton of needless paperwork. Whoever thought the twenty-first-century would be devoid of paperwork never worked in higher education.
For those reading this, you might think that I hate my current career plan. That just isn’t the case, folks. Instead, I am a realist. I know everyone has to do what they in the Navy call a shit detail, in order to get anywhere. That means you have to put on your muckers (i.e., knee-high boots) on and start shoveling the shit and mud. Eventually, ever so slowly, you find yourself in a position where you can support yourself and your passions — and hopefully the stable is clean by then.
I am reminded of a recent interview with Andy Weir, the writer of The Martian, who said, and I am paraphrasing liberally here, folks, that he never put himself in financial danger by pursuing his passion for writing. Like most of us, he took on the shit details, wrote on the side, and decided he wasn’t going to give in. He’s a successful writer now, but things weren’t always so certain for him.
Writers, myself included, need a dose of reality. We have to work in order to support ourselves — that is, have food, shelter, a social life, a vehicle or money for public transport, etc. Writing only supports a small percentage of writers, and this has always been the case. In fact, in a thesis course I am currently taking for my MFA, we were talking about supporting our writing, using an article by Kameron Hurley as the conversation starter. The article is depressing as hell, but it’s definitely something we all need to see. We need to know that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and, more importantly, that writing is a zero-sum game, with shrinking real estate and sinking profit margins. Yes, we read more now than we ever have, but there is just so much more noise out there, that it is harder to get noticed, even if you are a good writer.
Teaching, despite all of the shit-talking above, really does afford individuals a great deal of autonomy over their free time, if they are smart and budget their time according to personal and professional needs. I utilize office hours as grading time. This accounts for about ten to twelve hours per week, depending on the week. The time I have repurposed allows me to go home and relax. Moreover, it allows me to go home and write. Writing time is precious to me, and I try to allot at least six to twelve hours per week to writing, on a good week. I also like to use free time to spend quality time with my dog and my wife. Both of these lovelies don’t see me much, so I have to spend time with them. This usually takes up about an hour to two hours per night, which isn’t all that bad. If I don’t get to spend that much time with them, I usually carve out time during the weekends. Weekends are a great way to make up for lost writing time as well. Overall, flexibility is key here, and, I think, having control over the flexibility of one’s hours allows you to, again, have agency when it comes to pursuing your writing passions.
What’s my final piece of advice? Don’t quit your day job. It may allow you to have a better writing schedule and more free time once you’ve gotten a hold of the ropes. Moreover, the day job will likely impress future employers, who look at your C.V. or resume, when you are applying to the dream job. Writing is a passion, a calling, don’t let anything get in your way. However, don’t face starvation, homelessness, and the like in order to realize your dreams of being a writer. Instead, go out and get a job that provides you with enough fodder to sustain your writing well into the future.