The Millions recently proposed the idea that if MFA graduates were finding themselves unsatisfied with adjunct teaching (which, um, obviously), they should look into teaching high school. Nick Rapatrazone, the post's author, does make some pretty sexy arguments for giving your time to sweaty, self-interested quasi-adults who are horrifying at being adequately human toward one another. Still, I’d like to supplement his advice with a few second thoughts.
Let me be clear: if you’re into teaching high school, I applaud you. The prospect of a bunch of MFAs entering the public school system with enthusiasm and literary encouragement fills me with excitement and something close to glee. But as long as we're weighing it against adjunct teaching, I feel other perspectives might be of use.
Maybe try being poor for one minute. This is not to encourage anyone drowning in adjunct drudgery to continue drowning in adjunct drudgery. You are a sucker and totally not being paid what you’re worth. If you get some weird sadistic glee out of the it, please, by all means, keep encouraging universities to crumble under the weight of their own lack of integrity.
But I have to ask: since when were writers supposed to be comfortable? You really want to have to go back to high school just so you can pay rent? In this economy, I say take whatever shitty job you can get. But I also suspect that there’s this lingering hope that getting an education guarantees some future stability in a fulfilling career. I kind of have the feeling that the whole MFA-to-high-school-teacher track is an adjustment, a concession to the dream that was really only for the generations before you. That shit was for the baby boomers and whatever unnamed generations became between them and...what, Gen X or Y? You need to talk to your grandpa (great grandpa?) about the Depression and lard on bread and some shit 'cause you want way too much.
My point here is that if you want stability while you write, be an artist who doesn’t need the approval of a teaching career. Stop thinking you’re owed something because you went to school. School was a privilege you lucked out on. If you write, worry about writing and don’t give a shit about anything except forming your life to allow writing to happen. And if youstill want to teach, god bless.
People who went to school for teaching K-12 are turning away from careers in education. My own mother, an excellent and incredibly dedicated public school teacher for over thirty years (and counting) has said she probably wouldn’t have gone into teaching if the atmosphere had been the same as it is now. This largely has to do with the sheer amount of time spent on test preparation for tests that don’t actually result in students learning anything. I find it horrifying that teachers no longer have as much discretion in what they teach, and I find it doubly horrifying that potentially excellent teachers might be turning away from that career because education is now such a shit show. Sure, steady paycheck, making a difference, etc. etc., but anyone going into teaching high school English under the impression that they’re going to teach kids how to appreciate literature should know that such labors will account for maybe twenty percent of their workload.
I hope with all my heart there are folks out there who will fight to make public education better, whether from the classroom or the capitol. But, my fellow MFAs, just know that it will indeed be a fight.