Change of Plans?

Moving to MI was not #1 on my list. I did not delight in the promise of long, miserable winters and economic uncertainty. However, now that I’m here, I can’t imagine that I could be this happy anywhere else. I’ve enjoyed gorgeous beaches, unbelievable fall colors, something called a muskeg, and the crisp bite of winter (already!) coming on. My town is small, but fully-featured, complete with a co-op, two French bakeries, a farmer’s market, and plenty of local food options. And I certainly can’t complain about the 10 cent bottle deposit.

Photo Oct 08, 12 44 41 PM

Ette loves running through the fallen leaves.

When I was offered the opportunity to teach a Women Writers class at SVSU, I thought my dreams had come true. This, I thought, was making it. Don’t get me or my use of the past tense wrong, this course is delightful. I’ve had some of my greatest teaching challenges and successes in this setting. I taught college freshman how to close read poetry (and they responded well to it.) I got football players to engage in critical discussions of Mrs. Dalloway. And it’s only midterm!

What has shocked me this semester, is how much joy I get from my CMU English Language Institute teaching. I am teaching a Grammar III class (which was initially terrifying) and a Integrated Skills (Listening/Speaking) II class. In these courses I can actually see student progress. Students are eager to learn English because that’s their primary mission in our program. They don’t think they’re above the classes I teach. They don’t resent me for making them talk to one another. They are genuinely excited to learn about American culture. They ask about grammatical quirks with genuine interest. They ask me questions that spark sincere and interesting cultural exchanges.

Photo Oct 07, 6 02 02 PM

The board is partially obscured by one of many balloons my students used to decorate the classroom for Teacher Day!

Now, this in no way takes away from my love of literature or the teaching of literature, but it opened my eyes to a different type of satisfaction I can get from my career. After a little investigating, I found that I could get a fully funded assistantship to help me get my M.A. TESOL here at CMU. If I get my M.A. TESOL (yes, another M.A.)  I will be able to get a career-level job right away. With the M.A. in English I already have, I only have the promise of struggling to piece together adjunct gigs without benefits, praying for work semester to semester. This sort of freelance-teaching is not sustainable for me. I need stability, some sense of permanent purpose. Not now, but at some point in the future I would like to be in a position that I could buy a car and a house. I want to have that option. I would like to have a reliable figure to offer when people ask me my annual income.  “I don’t know, it depends,” is becoming less and less acceptable. And why should I (or any other smart, invested educator working as an adjunct) have to live like that?

But it isn’t easy to leave behind your lifelong passion. One can’t suddenly shift gears without repercussions. For example, what will become of all of my research aspirations? Besides my love of education and passion for teaching, the promise of writing and publishing articles and presenting at conferences has been one of the biggest draws of the academy for me. I am very excited about the research TESOL scholars conduct (including but not limited to those using Corpus), but I have several articles and a thesis that I wanted to send out for publication this year. Now, I feel like those works that mean/meant so much to me will just collect dust like artifacts of a past life. Can a person teach in a TESOL program and publish literary criticism?  Can I somehow integrate the knowledge I’ve already acquired into my TESOL research by studying how literature can more effectively be integrated into the language-learning classroom? What about gender research and TESOL? Is that a thing? If I change my specialty to TESOL, I worry that all of the hard work I put toward women’s studies research will be for naught. Can I do both?

What’s more, how do I maintain a feminist identity in a classroom full of people from whom I have to hide this fact to avoid persecution? What fundamental parts of my self will be sacrificed in exchange for job stability and a different type of job satisfaction? Can I get the sort of intellectual excitement from books that I desire by just joining a book club? Will I lose that intellectual excitement if I stay away for too long? Am I definitely over-thinking this?

I would love to hear advice/responses from others on this. Of course, this decision is mine alone, but feedback helps me process these big decisions.

2 comments on “Change of Plans?

  1. arianemetz says:

    Not that I am really in a position to be giving advice, but I don’t think academics need to place themselves into restrictive categories anymore (and maybe they never did). I think you can teach developmental English AND be a published literary scholar. Who says you can’t do both? Soon you will have the degrees justifying your right to do both. Do what makes you happy. Finding time for all of these projects, however, is another story entirely.

  2. lcm903 says:

    Courtney-

    I definitely understand your concerns. I teach 8th grade rather than college, and I’ve had to tone down certain parts of my personality to be respected by my students and colleagues. I also write/research a lot less.

    That being said, I think it really depends on your drive and values. I need stability so I chose public k-12 education. However, I have gained more than I expected. I have impacted students in tangible ways; I have gained friendships with people I never would have expected.

    You are one of the most passionate and determined people I know, so I think that if you choose to go the TESOL route you will be able to also write/research about what interests you. Although life gives us choices that are hard, it also expands us in new and exciting ways.

    Whatever you decide, I know you will do fabulously!

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