This post is sponsored by a whole lot of self-loathing.
I share a little pod of grad students with another teacher. We’re their mentors. I’m aware of how many times I’ve fallen out of trees or taught hungover, but I still get to talk to them about time management and trying to keep up healthy habits. The fact that I am asked to give advice on staying healthy and sane during grad school is a cosmic joke.
The one thing I do feel confident talking with my mentees about is teaching. Grad school emptied me of all my hope and stuffed me with a sour jelly, but teaching made it easy to forget that I spent a lot of the last two years hoping I would be volunteered for an experimental mission to the surface of the sun. I like talking about teaching with my little pack of fresh-eyed grads, and talking about it made me notice one of the things I miss most about teaching: I get to feel useful.
I’m going to list some of my credentials so people who aren’t me can share some of my absolute shock that I get to do something useful.
- I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the 90s sitcom Frasier
- I have had nearly 20 cats in my life and hate leaving my home alone for long, so I’m rarely out of the house for extended periods
- Most of the books I’ve read in the last 6 years have been for a grade and every other one has been the kind where you wouldn’t be surprised if dragons showed up
- I am anxious around any *large group of people
- *large is subjective and is determined by the size of the room, the number of people, and if I’m shorter than a lot of people
- I am, like, really good at writing boring essays
- I can’t drive
- I don’t know how people bond over sports
- I once spent a week completely silent, and it was a pretty normal week
If jobs hired based on any extensive look at a person’s character and not how effectively that person’s labor can be exploited, I’d probably live in the woods and work for a really industrious raccoon. I am not a useful person. On on a scale with employable adult on one end and houseplant on the other, it’s a surprise I do not have my own little ceramic pot.
But then I get to talk about teaching, and I get to remember actually being useful to somebody. Teaching is a weird profession because it requires so many skills that I never thought I’d need and aren’t necessarily practical anywhere else. The entry-level position is managing a bunch of people and getting them to do work they don’t want to do while also paying to do it. I’ve had to stay composed and neutral when political topics come up in class while also finding a way to quickly move away from them. And I can draw with crayons so well, even though I teach college freshmen. This is the only job where I could actually do well because nowhere else would ask the same balance of confident authority and absolute subservience to the idea that every single person you’re working with has to learn the exact same thing. That’s like owning a grocery store and considering it a failure if someone buys tomatoes when everyone else was buying pancake mix and tonic water.
Teaching is the only job I can imagine where I could be good enough to train other people to do it. Even if I’m going to spend the whole semester complaining about how hard it is and how much I don’t want to grade, I miss it a lot.