Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Big Life Decisions

I'm finding that when almost every single big familiar thing in your life is removed, you see what's really important to you. And I don't mean in a sappy, puppies-in-a-basket way. Although yes, puppies in a basket are crucially important.

I mean this: Now that I'm 2,000 miles from "home," and have left behind all of my friends, my church, my house, my neighborhood, my town, my job, my office of fantastic co-sufferers, my 2-hour driving distance from my family, and even my climate, things that are just not going to work for Candy are becoming clear very quickly.

Yesterday, I started teaching at the Little Bitty Community College. I despised it. And before you think "Oh Candy, give it a chance! Every job is hard the first day..." let me tell you that it wasn't about it being the first day. It was about contrast.

At the Big Giant University where I spent 9 years, I taught a dozen or so Freshman Composition classes during that time. During the first year that's all I taught. But with a huge stroke of luck and Divine choreography, I began teaching creative writing classes. There is an unspeakably huge difference between those 2 teaching genres. Freshman comp is a required course for all college students. No matter what their intended major, no matter how annoyed they are to be in school because their parents coerced them. The overall attitude, with very few exceptions, from the students in this course is "What? We, like, have to write papers? I, like, hate to write. Oh my God, I forgot to turn my phone off. Can I, like, answer it?" It goes downhill from there.

In creative writing classes, whether fiction writing, poetry writing, or memoir writing (all classes I taught regularly) the attitude is different. The courses are elective and those who sign up want to take them. Another perk: these students are usually juniors and seniors (because they get to sign up for classes first) and have had a couple years of college writing already, not to mention a little more life experience. They believe they have something to say, and that the world will be interested in hearing it, and that they are creative enough to make the writing good. In a word: motivated.

This does take the form of a naive arrogance sometimes. Like the total douchebag student I had in a fiction class once who said "I don't need to know how to write. I just need an agent." He was unbearable. A personality like an oily residue, not unlike his writing. Case in point: his scintillating story(wet dream) about the main character (himself) who was such a magnificent guitar player that Eddie Van Halen begged him to come over and show him some pointers. The main character coldly refused and the devastated Eddie quit rock 'n' roll forever.

It is not easy to "teach" a kid like that one, when what you'd really like to do is dip him in honey and drop him into a kiddie pool filled with red ants. But I'm at least interested in the genre, and in the group of students workshopping the story, and in whether or not we can salvage any of it. And believe it or not, I am not mean. Ever. When a student puts their creative writing in front of you, it is often, for them, like fileting themselves with a serrated knife in front of 17 of their peers. You must make a safe place for them. And I do. Even though I have many sharp streaks of raving bitch in my personality, I don't take it into the classroom. Everywhere else, yes. Class, no.

Yesterday, on my first day in the new classroom, it hit me that I am just done with teaching. The chance to teach creative writing at the college level in Phoenix is a gnat's foot away from zero, and even if I did get that kind of class here, the salary would still be one-third what I made at my old job.

So what I'm left with is a low-paying, dull-as-an-infomercial job (reading research papers about gun control, the advances in tanning beds, and binge drinking) ((those three topics all relate, don't they?)) that forces me to follow a schedule which prevents me from flying home to see my family until the semester is over. Unless I want to fly home on a Friday and back to Phoenix on a Sunday. This is not an attractive travel agenda to someone who needs a full day to recover from flying.

I know that most people with jobs do not have jobs they like. Even fewer have jobs that they love. That's how life is. But I need my job to at least have a point. I could go do chunks of temp work at Manpower and be stuck in an office filing medical forms 8 hours a day. But it would still have a point: I could go see my parents, 89 and 84, more than every 4 months. They have things to tell me, still, that I can't learn from college freshmen. Admittedly, my dad doesn't have much to say anymore, but I can still make him laugh, and I want to go do that as often as possible while he's around.

Teaching does have a point. There are people who want to coax irritable 18-year-olds into doing the assignments, and who don't mind the constant battle to win the hearts of teenagers over into the world of literature and writing when they would rather be text messaging "u b at th mall L8r?" But honestly, if I'd wanted to wrangle angry adolescents, I'd have had some of my own.

Some students are motivated. Out of a class of 18 there are usually 2 or 3 who rise to the occasion and crank out the work without acting as though you've asked them to knock out their own teeth, and they even do it well. There is the occasional victory. It's just not enough for me anymore.

Truthfully, I'm feeling more than a little brokenhearted. Teaching turned me into a person. It was the first place I ever found success. And now I have to let it go and figure out what's next. I can always go back. There is a neverending supply of low-paying positions teaching freshman comp. But I don't think I will.

There is much to be thankful for. There is a husband I'm madly in love with who wore fake hillbilly teeth with me at our wedding, and who is really, really good to me every day. And that's enough to start with.

27 Comments:

  • At 8:18 AM, Blogger Gail said…

    My first day is today. I still like teaching - after how many years? -- and most of the time I've been teaching comp to freshmen, but if you don't like it, don't do it. You can find a great job somewhere else with your business and management skills. Time to moooove on.

     
  • At 8:26 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Gail,
    And you're MUCH better at teaching comp. than I am. Which is why I always asked you for tutorials in the office.

     
  • At 11:54 AM, Blogger Where did my mask go? said…

    Yeah...the whole give it a chance is important. But if after it's been given a chance, and you still don't love the job, find a new one. People are pretty much bred to have good careers they will be stuck in their whole life so they survive and can make a living and pay the bills. It's your life. You might as well make it worth living.

     
  • At 12:14 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Good point, "mask"...

    Life is always worth living. It just takes some tweaking sometimes.

     
  • At 12:30 PM, Blogger Where did my mask go? said…

    ...I just tried leaving a comment but I don't think it worked. So if one shows up, I'm not trying to repeat myself here :)

    You said that there are those few students in class who are are motivated for the class, but it's just not enough anymore. But what if everyone in your class was crazy about writing? It would be awesome at first, maybe. After awhile, though, I think the best part of teaching is having the opportunity to teach a student who is presumed a slacker, unmotivated, not passionate about writing, etc...to turn that student around. Change their mind. Give them something to get passionate for. My favorite teachers are the ones that make me care about what they are teaching. It's the hardest thing a teacher has to do, but if you didn't even have anyone to convince you are teaching the subject that it matters, then the whole feeling like yoiu accomplished something truly meaningful at work is gone. Every job needs its challenge. You are blessed to have the opportunity to challenge people to really care about something. I think that is really amazing, and that there is reason to love your job afterall.

     
  • At 12:36 PM, Anonymous oneavid@aol.com said…

    Wow! A real rant!

    "When people go to work, they shouldn't have to leave their hearts at home.”

     
  • At 12:55 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Mask, That is very very true. There is great reward in getting people interested in what you're teaching. It makes you feel like you did something worthwhile for them, at least as far as helping them get through the semester. What I'm realizing is that I'm not interested any more in the type of writing that's necessary to teach in regular comp classes.

    When I teach poetry writing, I'm totally on fire about the subject. LOVE showing them all different styles, encouraging them to try stuff.

    It could be that I'm just burned out on the whole "get them interested" thing a la freshman comp. After awhile you just want someone to get in the car, without your having to tie them up and throw them in. OK, bad analogy.

     
  • At 12:55 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Yes, oneavid...and it's so unlike me to rant about anything.
    The desert heat has perhaps honked me off in general.

     
  • At 1:03 PM, Blogger LD said…

    Wow-- I love the image of dipping a honey-covered student into a pool filled with red ants. Let me just savor that for a moment.....

    Anyway- you could always take up stripping-- I hear that pays really well. And you definitely don't have to get up early for it.

     
  • At 1:05 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    LD, I can always count on you for a practical suggestion! Problem is, I just sold my stripper pole on ebay. Funny coincidence, the buyer was my mother.

     
  • At 1:06 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    p.s. to Mask...

    The whole thing boils down to the top priority, which is seeing my family regularly. Whether or not I like my job is, I think, a distant second.

     
  • At 3:52 PM, Blogger Jerry said…

    Losing a job or being underutilized are both soul-deadening. Moving isn't easy either.

    Seems like you are experiencing a double whammy. I know it's painful and I wish I had some advice to give you--you want to help...you know?

    But, there is no good advice that can be applied from long distance. I would not eliminate the possibility of a career change.

    Sometimes change and adaptation create the pressure needed to move your thinking to a broader list of alternatives.

     
  • At 4:14 PM, Blogger EB said…

    Dear Fantastic Gods who made it cosmically possible for Scott and Candy to find each other,

    I prayed to you for happiness 'n' love for me, Candy, and Prostitutia. I'm beginning to think that maybe you misunderstood just slightly what I was praying for. I'm a greedy bitch. I didn't mean happiness in love (though you've delivered that); I meant happiness and love. My white trash speech patterns sometimes make the "in" and "and" indistinguishable, so I understand the confusion. Please make a note of this change and deliver the appropriate dose of happy to Candy as soon as possible.

    Thank you,
    EB

     
  • At 5:37 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jerry...Just having you around is good enough. Advice or no advice. And anyway, everybody has to figure it out on their own. Thanks.

    EB, I don't even push my luck asking for more than the "in love" stuff. So thanks for being bold FOR me. If an anvil falls on my head though, it'll be YER fault.

     
  • At 4:37 AM, Blogger Pixie said…

    Yeah. You're right. You probably should find some other 'job'.

    It is hell to be inspirational or find some thing to encourage others with; to rise above and excel at something new (a challenge) when you've been doing it "this way" for so long.

    I certainly would not want a burned out, jaded, angry teacher "teaching" my kid any more than I'd want a new, stupid, pointless teacher teaching her.

    God forbid there be passion in the classroom.

    I hope you find something that makes you happy.

    Or makes you feel... anything that will encourage the kids in your "charge".

    Perhaps the situation that you're facing is a clean slate and an opportunity for all of you to take a new approach?

    I dunno. Just a thought... welcome to AZ... there are wonderful things to be found here if you open your eyes.

    The same applies to the classroom... and your students.

    Get a grip and think... you're worn out and accustomed to a certain ilk of student... you have as much to learn from the students in your charge as they have to learn from you.

    Just sayin.

     
  • At 10:28 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Pixie,
    I can see why, after reading my post, you could come to the conclusion that my weariness of the job would show up in the classroom.

    But I can assure you that it doesn't. However I might be feeling on the inside, when I'm in the classroom teaching, I'm a total pro, and these students will not pay for it.

    My entire point IS that I'm ready to "excel at something new" as you put it. I love to encourage other people. To inspire and be inspired whenever possible.

    I also believe that it's a good thing to have enough self awareness to realize when your tank is empty and you need to find another arena in which to do it. Who knows...with a year or two away from teaching, I might yearn for it.

     
  • At 11:18 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    p.s. to EB...I really miss your white trash speech patterns.

    And the gloopy, sticky decorations on your office wall.

    Fear not. Candy HAS found happiness. The right guy, as I'm sure you've found, is a big, big help.

     
  • At 7:43 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

     
  • At 8:43 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Oops. Candy let it fly there for a minute. Delete! Delete!

     
  • At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just evesdropping on a rainy Saturday morning. But thought, maybe now it's time for you to sit down and see where the writing takes you? Use your gift. Anita

     
  • At 10:24 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Anita...thank you.

    I'm going to start barking up the writing tree and see what happens.

     
  • At 10:18 AM, Blogger planbreaker said…

    I think that the biggest travesty here is that you're an amazing and talented writing teacher in a world where amazing and talented writing teachers 1)don't have much use and 2)don't get paid much. I felt the same way about many of the NTTs at school--they were the best teachers who were not valued for their contributions. I totally understand if you're feeling like you're on empty, Candy, but it makes me sad to think about all of your future potential students who won't benefit from your teaching.

    On the other hand, hearing from my students about how much they loved you got kind of annoying.

     
  • At 10:29 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, planbreaker. Coming from you, that's a big deal for me. Seriously.

    Yeah, I have to pay attention to the "tank" right now. There are lots of new things to get used to, and I don't want a life-sucking job intefering with the newlywed experience. :)

    But I'm sad about the whole thing. Teaching has been such a vibrant part of my life for the last 9 years that I expect to feel plenty disoriented without it. But I'm disoriented in general at the moment, so it's a good time to make the change.

    Yeah, like your students didn't fawn over YOU to me. Never.

    Much.

     
  • At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Jackie O. said…

    Kudos to Candy for recognizing the things that are just not going to work for her. Spending time with your folks is, in my opinion, way more important than slogging through a teaching job that's quickly becoming a depressing burden.

    True, there are still many students out there who need to be told that their mothers are whores...which is why I'm glad I've studied Candy Pedagogy and am ready to put it into practice--though I'll never be able to do it with as much panache. :)

     
  • At 2:26 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jackie O.,

    Thank you for understanding. Really. You summed it up perfectly.

    OK look. It was ONE student. And HE said it first. One day when I had them bring in magazines to investigate audience slanting, etc. he said, right in class, "My mother is a whore." And then he held up a Playboy magazine and said "She's in here." And we all gasped a little because he was so serious. And then he raised an eyebrow and laughed and we had had our chains yanked big time. So I had no choice. I reminded him of it every single day at the beginning of class. There were only 11 people in the class, and it became our ritual. Hey Dave, how's your mom? etc.

    Thus ends the pedagogy. Except for the part about taking my petrified rotten bananas to class.

    Jackie, it is killing me not to be in our office.

     
  • At 2:30 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    OK Jackie...maybe there were 60 or 70 other students I said that to.

     
  • At 6:44 PM, Blogger Citlali said…

    Wow, quite the dilemma you have there. Although my father's not ailing he's also in Tucson and we've considered moving there or Phoenix to be with him. It's interesting that I was thinking about writing you to ask about the heat. No need to ask you what you think about THAT any more... But seriously -- being w/your dad sounds very important to you AND the job no longer holds it's appeal. Of course, there's the disillusionment to deal with and letting go is never easy. That's especially so when it held so much passion for you at some point. Well, whatever you decide I sure hope you get what you want. Maybe you won't love it either, right away, but maybe it will grow into a passion in time? You are truly a great writer and if ever you write a book you can count on my patronage. I feel for you. Wish you the best as you hash this out. = ]

     

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