Two years ago, I took a full-time job working as a civil servant in an academic department at a state university. I’m a media manager, writing the occasional news story about my department, editing the department newsletter, liaising with textbook reps, and doing all sorts of tedious work (like putting together course evaluation packets) that have nothing to do with anything I went to college for. It’s not exactly my dream job, but it allows me the flexibility I need to be able to pursue my dream career, which is writing.
Prior to taking this job, I worked as an adjunct instructor at a state technical college. It’s a typical career path for many in my situation, but I soon learned that it was not conducive to writing. Sure, I only spent a couple of hours in the classroom each week and was able to work at home the rest of the time. But, I spent many of those long hours at home grading papers, reading basic essays written by students who really did not want to write them. There was a lot of drudge work involved for very little pay, and it left very little time for my own writing pursuits.
The nice thing about my current “day job” is that I can clock out at the end of the day and forget about it. I also have great benefits, and it pays the bills (even if just barely.) I work 37.5 hours a week at my “job,” and then I have plenty of time for my chosen “career” of writing, which I approach as a beloved hobby in many ways. It’s that thing that I do all the time, even though I don’t have to. I could just as easily put it aside and watch TV, but I’d rather not. However, it is a hobby that I would love to eventually make a living off of once my kids are grown and no longer need the benefits that come with my day job.
One of the perks of my day job is a small amount of free tuition each semester that I had every intention of using when I first took the job. I attended a couple of classes in the beginning, but it just didn’t feel right anymore. As a writer, I will always have room to learn and grow, but at this point, I began to feel as though I was on the wrong side of the teacher/student dynamic.
My school doesn’t offer a creative writing MFA, so my paths forward, education-wise, are limited. I have no interest in pursuing a Ph.D. This would require scuttling my creative writing for a couple of years in order to pursue an educational path that would only lead me back to teaching courses that would require long hours of grading papers written by students who do not want to write them.
I’ve been going to school for so long, it is almost hard to accept that I am finally done. I have done some soul searching and have realized that I am not on a traditional path. Have I ever been? I’ve always gone my own way, and now it’s time to forge ahead, continuing on my own path. What this boils down to is the fact that I have no interest in teaching “real” college courses. I just don’t seem to fit into that model, and that’s okay.
This spring, I will be leading a creative writing workshop at my local community college. It’s the first time I have been truly excited about the course material for a class that I am teaching. It’s a community education course rather than a traditional course, so there will be no papers for me to grade (WOOHOO!!) It will just be me, leading a room full of writers in discussion of our work and hopefully growing as a writer while helping my students to grow as well.
I will no longer have to judge the writing from the standpoint of a teacher who has to make sure each piece meets the requirements of the course. Instead, I will be able to flex the course to meet the needs and requirements of the students. I will be able to help them achieve their individual writing goals rather than forcing them to meet the academic goals of the course.
For the first time ever, I will be allowed to accept the fact that each and every one of my students will be at a different place on his or her own individual writing journey. It will be such a relief to no longer have to hand out bad grades to students who simply haven’t yet evolved as much as some of their classmates. I will also no longer have to hand out A’s to students who put very little effort into their work simply because they are further along than the course requires. I will be able to meet the students where they are and help them move forward without having to make them feel bad for not being good writers—yet.
As I plan for this workshop, the ideas are flowing in. Just this morning, I got an idea for a study abroad trip that I would love to teach. I am going to put together a proposal to submit to the international studies offices at each of the schools that I am currently affiliated with and just see what happens. The worst that can happen is that they’ll tell me no.
Anyway, there is a point to this blog post, even if I am taking my time getting to it. And that is that there are opportunities available to all of us to pursue our dreams. Sometimes you just have to create those opportunities for yourself. No one asked me to teach a creative writing workshop. I decided that I wanted to, created a proposal for my local community college, and submitted it. The proposal was accepted, and now I am getting ready to lead my very first creative writing workshop. There was actually very little effort involved with getting the course approved. All I had to do is ask.
Sometimes, all you have to do is ask, and the answer will be yes. If you never ask, the answer will always be no.