August 5, 2013 - 12:19pm
BY KATIE STEEN
We were all sitting around the campfire. To my right were two young girls and a little boy, the undersides of their throats stretched out as they tilted their heads back as far as possible to scan the sky for shooting stars. To the right of them was their father — a family friend — and to the right of him were my dad and my uncle, saying nothing, content to sit by a fire on a chilly northern Michigan night. Continuing along the circle was a cousin-in-law, appearing at first to also be staring into space, gaping at the wonders of the universe, but upon closer inspection was simply passed out drunk in his lawn chair. After him, a series of family friends, then my aunt, uncle and boyfriend.
The family friends across the fire — the true heroes who had soldiered on and stayed up for the campfire despite countless rounds of cheap beer being flooded down their gullets via beer bong — were expectedly quiet, sitting in a hung-over haze, smoking cigarettes. For a while, the only sounds were the pops of the fire, the murmur of weird bugs somewhere out in the density of the woods and the occasional growl of a car drifting onto a rumble strip off in the distance.
Finally, one of the soldiers — I’ll call him Bill — turned to me and began the standard intro that I’m sure most of us (“us” being University students) have heard before: “So you go to U of M, huh?”
Followed with, “Yep.”
“What do you study?”
“English and education.”
This one always gets me: “What do you want to do?”
“ … I mean, teach?”
“Oohh, teaching …” (Insert comment about shitty teaching salaries here), plus “but you go to U of M!”
End narration — cue rant.
Let’s start with “But you go to U of M!” That is correct — I go to the school that has the second best program for teacher education in the country. But more importantly, the level of condescension in that protest — but you go to U of M — is enraging. U of M is a rich-people school, so why am I not getting a rich-people job?
After all, “teachers make, like, 10 dollars an hour or something!” according to Bill, who apparently has yet to realize that teachers make salaries, not wages. We aren’t babysitters.
I’m baffled by this socially acceptable questioning and bashing of teaching. What other profession is it OK to blatantly criticize the amount of money that a person makes — a profession that educates the future citizens of our country, no less? The U.S. — the world — needs good teachers. We shouldn’t be dissuading University students from going into careers that have a tangible and important impact on the world — we should be encouraging them. But of course, teaching just isn’t that prestigious, so Bill expressed that there was still a glimmer of hope in my desolate future of education — “Wouldn’t you rather be a professor?”
That’s another question I get — increasingly so after that first day I wandered starry-eyed across the Diag — avoiding the M — and became an official Wolverine. Many of my University peers — so enraptured by the talents of their academic superiors — assume that academia is the preferred route of teaching, that being a secondary education teacher is simply a step in the path to becoming an esteemed, tenured Dr. So-and-So. I’m not saying that the two professions don’t intersect, but there’s a fundamental difference between lecturing a class of college students — many of whom are swimming in debt and counting credits until the day they’ll get that piece of paper that will magically grant them jobs or at least paid internships — and teaching a class of pubescent students of varying levels of maturity, many of whom have no reason to be in your classroom except for a state mandate. (Also the funny thing is that being a secondary education teacher is not a step at all in the process of being a professor — two different professions, people.)
Anyway, Bill pestered me for a while longer in standard I’m-only-half-joking-so-if-I-offend-you-it’s-okay fashion, and eventually I said something terse and snippy to him, questioning why he cares so much about what I want to do with my life, and he responded with a surprisingly earnest, “I’m just teasing — I sold out a long time ago with my own career.”
Which is, of course, not my problem.
I’m not going to apologize for wanting to be a teacher. It sucks when people who are weirdly, passive-aggressively jealous of my career aspirations say stuff like that, because, to be honest, it has made me second-guess myself many times. I know some people do it out of maternal concern — primarily my mother — who never blatantly said, “Don’t be a teacher,” but always opted for the subtler, “Just remember to keep your options open.”
I’m going to be a senior in less than a month, and I’m still not a 100 percent sure about almost anything I want to do in my future, but it’s undeniable that my options are indeed dwindling. But whether you’re going to be a University freshman, whether you’re a fifth-year or a graduate student or a parent or professor or one of those people with no affiliation to the University whatsoever who always makes me wonder how did you find this article??, maybe this rant can serve as some sort of a reminder that when weighing different potential options — for your career or otherwise. Don’t sell out. Because you will probably be weirdly bitter and rude to a stranger at a campfire someday, and that’s really an unpleasant trait to have.
Katie Steen can be reached at email@example.com.