Graduation

Tomorrow at 6 pm, I graduate. There’s an element of it that still feels not-quite-real. I decided which dress to wear just yesterday; my black graduation gown is still hanging, un-ironed, in my bathroom where I’ve draped it over the last week in the hope that the shower steam will press it out. The black hat is weird and scratchy and I’ve avoided putting it on unless it’s to make my brothers laugh about how goofy it is.

It’s not like I’ve been unprepared – as long as I’m capable of writing lists, that will never happen – but the things I’ve been preparing for are only peripherally related to graduation: the dinner afterwards, the BBQ on Saturday, family in town, etc. It seems kind of strange that less than two years ago, I decided to start this program.

Choosing to pursue my Masters in Teaching (MAT) was an educated guess, but a guess nevertheless. In fact, it was closer to an educated gamble. I was closing in on 27 and knew that the time for changing careers every couple of years needed to come to a close. I felt panicked by indecision coupled with the pressure of needing to decide. Nothing seemed particularly appealing to me. I took personality assessment after personality assessment, and after shunning “marriage therapist” and “interior decorator” for the umpteenth time, I was at a total loss.

After I graduated with my undergraduate in English, I would chafe mightily when people would say, “Ah.. an English degree! What are you going to do with that? Teach?”

“Ugh, no,” I’d say, “It was just the only thing I could bear to study for four years and not be bored out of my mind.” Which was true.

After leaving the Mormon Church and dropping out of BYU just before school started, I had decided to attend Utah State University as a member of the prestigious Huntsman Scholars Business Program. It seemed challenging, engaging, and, importantly, came with substantial funding. But I was at a tough time in my life. Besides leaving the church, my parents were duking it out over custody of my younger brothers, and I was in a deep depression. I didn’t sleep. I cried constantly. For a time, I arranged with the secretary of the Huntsman program to call me every morning to remind me to get out of bed and get to class, and that didn’t often work. I wanted to shoot myself from boredom in Accounting 1010 and Microeconomics, among other things. Life was not easy.

Then I took English 2010. Being homeschooled, and having aced the English section of the ACT, I had never had to take an English class before. After grading the very first official paper I ever wrote, my teacher approached me and suggested I take other English classes (I wrote an extended and very silly metaphor comparing my many hobbies to the challenges of Super Mario – I got 100%). I pooh-poohed that idea for a while, since I figured English students were a bunch of namby-pamby “those-who-can’t-do-study-English” types, but since I was so miserable in business, I signed up for British Lit and some sort of survey of American literature. They rest, as they say, is history.

I loved studying English. I loved reading as homework. When I had my writing classes, especially nonfiction, I sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote. For fun. Even though it was hard, even though sometimes the last thing I wanted to do was write, I was so engaged and challenged in those classes. And I was good at it. Compared to the other students (some of which, yes, were in English because they couldn’t do anything else), I could tell that I was on to something. During my last semester, my Advanced Nonfiction teacher wrote on the back of my final 35-page paper, “You could have a future in this if you want it.” 

Then I graduated and went on to goof off in various jobs for many years, none of which had anything to do with English. I still read all the time and wrote the occasional blog post, but the fact that I wasn’t really engaging with the thing I loved so much was a constant source of inner conflict and self-shaming. I was underperforming and I knew it. I also knew that although I probably would like teaching, the idea of dealing with bureaucracy and the structure of high school kept me away (7:00 start time?! Fuck that!).

In the meantime, the reasons I liked to read had developed and matured. I sought human themes in stories. I read what other people had to say. I got more comfortable saying This book sucks, and sticking to it, regardless of what others thought. My writing became less self-pitying and more broad in its themes as well, reflecting a general inclination to turn away from my own ego and start seeing myself through the lens of the family and the community.

The time went by and I grew up little by little, and when my three-year stint as a nanny ended, I came back to Utah to be closer to my family and to commit myself to choosing my career once and for all. People whose judgment I trusted suggested that rather than finding the career that’s meant for you, the best course of action was to make a good guess and then stick with it and commit to being good at it. Choose what you like and are good at, they said, and the money will come.

So I decided to forego getting a Masters in English under the tutelage of my old teachers at USU, and went for the MAT at Westminster so I could teach high school English. It was partly practical – there’s a dire need for high school teachers, and nobody wants to hire a Masters in English at the college level – but also out of a desire to work with kids, to be part of the community, to teach. Again – it was a guess. I didn’t know that I would like it or be good at it. I had a hunch, and it was strong and well-placed, but that’s what it was.

I moved forward and two years later, here I am. I wish I could go back and shake my hand in the old, grasp-the-elbow-and-enthusiastically-pump-the-arm-type way. “Well done, betch!” I’d like to say to myself two years ago. “Ya done good! Ya good done!”

Because I can’t imagine having chosen anything more perfect. And if I may say so myself, I am really good at it. My student teaching reviews were exceptional. My college supervisor told me I was the best student teacher she’s ever seen, and she can see me mentoring and training other teachers. She hired me to teach English GED classes at the adult night school, in addition to the full-time job I got teaching 11th and 12th grade.

I’m already planning my curriculum for next year, and curriculum design is so fun! Isn’t that weird? Most teachers hate it, and I sit and think, “What’s my first lecture going to be? How am I going to get them interested in literature? How will I relate it to their lives? Which books will I teach? And which short stories? Which poems? How can I make them laugh? Cry? What are the skills they need to learn? How will I develop those?” Etc, etc.

And joy of joys, my job revolves around reading and writing. I’ve spent the last few weeks perusing the shelves of my new high school and seeing which books are already available that I haven’t read yet. I’m scouring the approved books list for books I can order.

I’ve got students lining up to be my Teacher’s Aids next year because they want to hang out in Miss Emery’s classroom. My 12th grade classes immediately filled up with my students from student teaching who want to take me, and there’s a waiting list of students who want to get in.

And to all of this, I think, YES!! YES! BRING IT ON! Next year is going to be SO FUN!! Put your phones in their special pockets, kids! Get out your reflective journals! We are going to learn about human fucking nature and the power of literature to help us lead better lives. Let us learn about the wise and foolish of the past! Let us dive deep into the metaphorical connotations of extremely weird books about humans turning into giant bugs! Let us write research papers on whatever we find interesting, and memoirs about times we overcame great difficulty, and deliver our own special Ted Talks on issues in schools we ought to reform. (I did this in my student teaching. They loved it.)

Who knows what the truth is. Was teaching English the perfect job that was merely out there, waiting for me to find it? More likely, I think, it that it was one of many things I could have really enjoyed and will enjoy all the more simply because I picked it and decided I was going to get good at it. I don’t know.

What I do know is that tomorrow I’m walking across a stage for the first time in my life (didn’t graduate high school and fled town too early to walk at my undergrad ceremony), and despite my complaints about the ridiculous ideologies of the program I attended (more on that later), I am so fucking jazzed to start teaching in the fall that even just thinking about decorating my classroom gives me the shivers. Yikes.

 

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