Saturday, November 16, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me: A Breakup Letter

Dear Education:

You know I love you. I’ve been in love with you since I was seventeen or eighteen, and after I gave up on my dreams of being the next Jack Kerouac (dreams that you fostered, by the way) I imagined that we would grow old together, that as I made it through life, you would be by my side, and we would change the world together, hand in hand. It was with these thoughts that I went to college, and there I fell even more in love with you. I loved your lectures, the notes, the discussions, the belief that I was truly engaged in academic discourse and that such discussions would be the means by which I made my living until I retired. And yes, I suppose it’s true that when I got to college, I began to see our relationship differently. Up to that point, I had imagined I would teach high school English, by far my favorite of all the courses I took during my public education experience. In college, I fell in love with the older, more mature version of you: college education. When I was a sophomore, I decided that I ultimately wanted to teach college, and it would be in that way that our relationship would continue to grow. But you didn’t make it easy on me. In order to teach college-level courses, or even developmental courses fulltime, I had to have a Master’s, and you made it extremely difficult to pursue my first love of teaching high school. Much easier was it to pursue a degree in middle grades education, a set of students I wasn’t totally convinced I needed or wanted to teach, but hey, I thought maybe I could just use it as a stepping stone to pursing an MA and teaching college fulltime.

But as luck would have it, I ended up teaching developmental writing part-time for a couple years, and let’s be honest, I loved it. The pay was horrible, but the work was rewarding, exhilarating, and fun, and I got to be part of an academic community that allowed me to research and discuss ideas, to write and create—especially when I finally began my Master’s work—but in a strange twist of fate, due to the connections I had made over the years, I wound up back at my first love: teaching high school. And I hated it. In the eight years between my graduation and the time I started teaching high school, everything I loved about you was gone: lecture, notes, discussion, reading full versions of classic literature, all of it replaced by standardized tests and test-prep, Latin and Greek roots out of context, and jumping jacks and fieldtrips down the hall (don’t ask.) Taking notes was replaced by snapping photos of notes with iPhones, copying and learning definitions was replaced by drawing pictures on pre-prepared vocab lists (with the definition included), and lecture was replaced by think-pair-share and Round Robin reading.  

Unfortunately, one cannot make it on adjuncting alone, and even adjuncting while working a second job is tough (I did that for a couple years), so I think it’s time that I severe this relationship. Now, I know what you’re thinking: the truly educated never stop learning and education is not limited to the classroom. I get that. And you’re right. I know that I start my new job, I’ll still have the opportunity to teach people with whom I come in contact, though in a different way, and I’ll have more time to read and focus on my writing, and I can still teach the occasional course should the opportunity present itself. But let’s face it: our relationship as it has been for the last several years is over. And I suppose I should take the blame here for my lack of ability to adapt and manage, to put aside my disgust and horror at what you’ve become, and for allowing my experiences to persuade me to give up, that I should say it’s not you, it’s me; but let’s be honest: you’ve changed. And maybe if I loved you more, if I could see us together long term, I would try to change, but given that you are still in a state of flux, as more and more teachers and parents are voicing concern over what you’ve become, what you’ve allowed others in politics and big business to make you, I have to say that I don’t think I can stand by you right now. Does that make me weak? Maybe. But I’m starting to fear that your fight is no longer my fight, and that even if it were, my voice would do nothing but add to the din. 

But hey, who knows, maybe someday we’ll meet up again. You’ll realize that students are more than a standardized test score and that students need to be able to focus on something for more than ten to fifteen minutes at a time (cause, really how does that prepare them for hour-long college lectures and business meetings?) and I’ll finish my MA, maybe even start an MFA or a PhD, and when we meet up again, we’ll both be better suited to meet each other’s needs. But until then, wish me luck as I enter the non-academic work world. 


Love always,


P.S. Keep in touch. And know that it’s not as though I’ll not see you at all. I have a standing invitation for Janie’s theatre class to do writing exercises, play theatre games, and talk about writing, so when you see me, don’t look the other way as though we’ve never met. Be nice, say hello, and this will be so much easier on both of us.