Day: May 24, 2011

I’d Hate to be the World’s Best Waterboarder or Teen Beauty Pageant Judge

Before I begin, anyone have suggestions for me resuming my singing lessons/choir/a cappella career?  I miss singing a lot. I want to rebuild my volume (lost after years of just humming to myself) and my repertoire.  I also miss the fun of singing in a group.

After nailing my English courses throughout high school, majoring in English in college, and going to graduate school to learn how to teach English, I found…that I preferred teaching social studies.  This was a fluke.

I think what happened was, in addition to a rather ego-inflating sense of “specialness” that came from tremendous success with writing, that I also loved my English teachers more than any other subject.

My history teachers were always kind of harried.  My social studies teachers in middle school seemed to need a good steam pressing and perhaps a couple of days away from the newspaper.  I shudder to think of how they are now, with the advent of 24-hour news cycle.  Probably sweatier, more maniacal, and with some serious Starbucks breath.  My history and social studies teachers were always kinda bug-eyed, nerdy, usually carrying books and folders with papers haphazardly stuck partially inside. Also, overwhelmingly masculine.  Not that I don’t like men.  I love men. Men love me (or try to, at least.)

English teachers gave me the love I needed in high school.  I was understood by my English teachers (even the men.)  My broad-stroke writing style was curried, stirred, beloved, appreciated, laughed with.  They got it.

English teachers were the ones who laughed most. Their quizzes had senses of humor. This was until college.  I’m pretty sure the ivy and pomposity about campus dried out all English majors.

My history teachers were driven and mostly humorless, although awesome people, very excited about how the dead and gone affected the here and now.   They were similarly mummified at the college level, save a few older professors who would spend ninety minutes gently caressing a worn copy of The Peloponnesian War and talking about one Greek word (and its derivations) in some form of chalk-dusty rapture.

My history teachers infused me with a capacity for synthesis that carried over into English lit crit papers, thank you very much.  I
loved the way you could view events from so many lenses, how the butterfly effect resonated loudly in my ear as I scribbled notes, trying to both capture every single word and let my brain weave connections to historical events and social movements oceans or decades away.
I could find links and possible causalities in new and interesting ways in history (my teachers and professors were always impressed by my scope, not necessarily by my reach).  I loved thinking about those who never made history, who were on the sidelines, who were just trying to get through the day while the important folk Made Things Happen.

But I loved English.

I loved that I got subtext. I loved pulling apart, analyzing, not only pulling the teenager “Find The Symbolism” in every one of Salinger’s nine short stories, Kafka’s inadvertent advertisement for Raid, and every drop of Madame Bovary’s bloody sputum, but in confident late-teen fashion, railed against finding symbolism in everything.  For goodness sake, you cannot stop at every God damned tree in the jungles of Heart of Darkness trying to find something behind every stump.  Move on!

I went into teaching because the classroom was always a safe and exciting place for me.  My first few years, I was assigned social studies courses, as the English department seemed to have decided in aggregate to never retire.  After five exciting, hard, successful years teaching social studies, I was given a choice of teaching assignments: English/Lit or continue teaching the Ancient Civilization course I had reworked and, if the students are to be trusted, made one of the hardest yet favorite courses at the entire school.

I chose what I had studied in college…I thought it important work.

I hated it.  I missed social studies, but I was too stubborn to admit it to my boss after five years of waiting and prompting for my English position.

Don’t get me wrong…I am a great English teacher (if not modest.) If you go by student assessments and state/national tests, my students did brilliantly. If you go by increase in student reading (both level and quantity), then there, too. I was given a national award.   I used the prize to go to Mexico, where I decided to leave teaching (at least in that particular incarnation)

So it’s taken me this long, four years after I left the school (gasp! How can you do this to the children? bemoaned the teachers in my school as they rattled their golden handcuffs.)

It is an odd internal struggle when one is good at something one doesn’t necessarily feel a passion for. Couple that with the social ballyhoo of Teacher Nobility! and it can cause quite a bit of immobility and, in my case, guilt. (Yes, I know that is surprising. Me? Feel guilty?)

I have before and since been good at other things I haven’t enjoyed, and enjoyed things that I wasn’t particularly good at.  I am poking around with writing and performing and directing and doing my own personalized brand of Comedy! Choreography! to try to hit the winning combo of liking something I feel successful at.

Meanwhile, I am trying to go all zen on myself and say that the enjoyment is its own success. Tell that to the next director I audition for.

The eternal battle of Good vs Good.