Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No, I Don't Want To Teach!

After a day filled with self-doubt, I came home and went through some of my old essays, short stories, and poems. Sometimes reading things written by the Old Me gives the New Me a renewed sense of purpose and longing. Sometimes the writer inside me gets buried in my day-to-day self-consciousness, and I have to pull her out with both hands and remember that I love writing and that if it never turns into a career for me then that's okay, I'll still love it.

The essay below is something I wrote in the exciting, yet frustrating months after graduating college with my English degree. It reminds me of some of the frustrations I feel now...

 So, Do You Plan To Teach?

I recently graduated from college with an English degree. Yes, an English degree. Now, you as a reader or, in this case, a stand-in for those people who annoy me most, should be asking me, “What possible good is an English degree going to do you?” To which I’ll answer: “I’m not exactly sure at this point as I only recently graduated. Didn’t I mention that?” And then you’ll ask (an editorial note: please add a hint of loftiness to the tone of your voice just for good measure): “So, do you plan to teach?” I’ll say with my eyes downcast and my voice low: “No, I’m actually an aspiring writer.” Now, insert a tape of crickets chirping in the background, and voila! You have a recent-college-graduate-with-an-English-degree-who-wants-to-write-for-a-living’s typical day.

If you’re an English major or a literature major, I’m betting that you recognize the oft-asked question, “do you plan to teach?” You’ve heard it yourself hundreds of times over and in varying forms: at the family reunion, while minding your own business at the supermarket, on one of dozens of trips to your grandmother’s house. English majors who are or intend to become teachers cannot possibly understand the deeply felt and nearly overwhelming annoyance that we, categorically speaking, “other” English majors feel upon hearing this question, this question that inexplicably seems to be on the end of every tongue that we meet. Yet, our annoyance may be a bit unjustified. “After all,” you, the non-English major reader ask, “how many more occupations could possibly be available to you useless beings who can read, write, research, analyze, communicate, and, horror of horrors, form grammatically correct sentences?” I’ll tell you, and the answer may surprise you; there are quite a few. The trick is finding one of these careers, but isn’t that the trick for most recent college graduates, regardless of their ability to form those grammatically correct sentences or add two and two together, which, by the way, I cannot do? I guess that question is rhetorical.

At any rate, the most elusive of the careers available to the elusive-English-major- who-happens-to-not-want-to-teach is that which I am currently pursuing, the career of the writer. This is where things get invariably tricky. As an aspiring writer, I’m beginning to learn just how tricky. The first week of job searching confirmed a fact which I already knew: the fact that most writing jobs are located in New York City, Los Angeles, and other locations scattered across America. The few jobs which were available in my home state of Georgia required experience, which, again as a recent college graduate, I do not possess. As depressing as this first week was, the second week was much worse for it was the week that I learned I am not the only writer in the world.

How big must my ego have been that I could have possibly thought there weren’t other writers (millions of them!) out there looking for the same jobs that I was looking for? And, mind you, these aren’t just any writers. These are talented, stunning writers who produce stunning fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, stunning fiction, non-fiction, and poetry that is often much better than my own. Needless to say, the second week I cried a lot.

The third, fourth, and fifth weeks, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started sending manuscripts and queries. A flurry of stamps, manila envelopes, and mailing labels buried me and ruthlessly left me with paper cuts. I didn’t mind; art often means sacrifice. I wrote, read, and passed along my work to anyone who was willing to critique it, or unwilling, I wasn’t picky. I waded through literary magazines and commercial publications, pouring over guidelines and back issues, searching for that one that would accept my work, that one whose editor would pick my manuscript out of hundreds waiting and deserving to be published and say, “Hey, this is good stuff.”

Now, I spend a lot of my time writing and mailing and mailing and writing; plus, I read constantly. Reading is always fun, and you get the added benefit of improving your own writing every time you read. Mostly though, I wait. I wait to hear back from those precious babies that I sent out into the world accompanied only by the ever-so-important Self-Addressed Stamp Envelope and a wish of luck. I wait for my first acceptance, but I wait more anxiously for my first rejection, because then I’ll feel like I’m a real writer. No doubt I’ll cry because, let’s face it, I cry a lot, but I’ll also set about proving to myself and to everyone else that writing is a career. And when next someone asks me if I plan to teach, I can hold my head high and say with pride, “No. I plan to write.”

I eventually received my first rejection (of many), but I also received my first acceptance (of a few). I look back on this Katie, and I wonder if she'd be proud of today's Katie. I think I've made strides in the right direction, but I still haven't reached the end writing goal. I won't stop until I do. Oh, and by the way, I still don't want to teach. 



  1. You could always do what I did: become a SAHM who writes while she should be watching her kids : )

  2. You need to write the anecdotal cookbook! I am not joking about that, Katherine Ross. And in case you can't tell that I'm not joking, please note the lack of laughing or winking emoticons in this comment. I am serious. I don't buy books and I don't cook, but I would buy your anecdotal cookbook about cooking along with other random stories in a heartbeat!

  3. Thanks, Dweej. I wish I could bottle your confidence in me and give it to myself!

    Mary Lauren: I'd love that! :)

  4. You are a talented writer. It's apparent in the way you phrase things. I really enjoy reading your stuff!

  5. I think it's fun to look back and compare those anxieties to today's and how much you have grown and changed. Awesome!

  6. Well just for that I must say you're an amazing writer! Just keep at it, you'll get there! It's funny, today I had a little break through (I'm graduating this summer and I hate my job) and I decided I'm going to try and find investors and grants for Replay and make it 100% legit. Your post was so fitting!! :D

  7. Another great post, Katie :) Hey, I'd read your published stuff any day! I can relate to how you felt then. I graduated with a Classical Studies major (as well as Communications major, which proved to be more useful and 'acceptable'). But I wouldn't even get a "so you planning on teaching" I would get the "What do you do with that?!?!" Thanks guys, real helpful. I have a degree and that is really all that matters. Thanks for sharing this 'old' piece of ya!

  8. Criminology major here. I always got, "ooooh like CSI???" ::sigh::

  9. I think she would be proud of you. I also think even if when you get published you will still write. If you wrote on a bathroom stall I would still read it. You have a gift Ms. Katie. Use it and share it will all.


Thank you for leaving ♥!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...