My patriarchal blessing, received in 2008, told me in pretty unambiguous terms that I should pursue teaching as a career. And my father told me occasionally that he thought I would be a good teacher because I could relate to the kids who didn't fit in. But all I wanted to do was get rich writing and publishing fun science fiction adventures and selling the movie rights. I had little interest in the most underpaid, underappreciated job in America, and that was even before the current pandemic revealed the ugliness of millions of people who think teachers are expendable drones that exist to spare them the inconvenience of watching their own kids. I also have always hated talking in front of groups of people. But most of all, with memories still fresh in mind of always getting stuck in the loudest and worst-behaved class in every grade of elementary and middle school, I had not the slightest desire to put up with those little brats.
Since it took me over seven years to graduate from Utah State University with my bachelor's degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis, I had plenty of time to procrastinate doing what I didn't really want to do but assumed I would do eventually. In my last semester, I finally asked a teacher friend (incidentally, one of the same people whose words I used without permission as a blurb on my little blog sidebar that you've probably never noticed if you only view this site on a mobile device because it's down toward the bottom) about the possible options for getting into that line of work. She said something about graduate school and it was an instant "nope" from me. With the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel drawing near after so long, I was not the least bit interested in further education.
A day or two later - I forget which day the weekly Sink Hollow USU English department newsletter staff meetings were held - Professor Charles stopped me after our weekly Sink Hollow USU English department newsletter staff meeting and asked, "Have you ever considered graduate school, or teaching?" He encouraged me to look into it because, he said, I had a lot of potential and he wanted to make sure it went somewhere. He would be happy, he said, to write me a letter of recommendation. He said he thought I would make a great teacher, and I could be a graduate instructor and teach the introductory English course, and I would get paid and have my tuition covered.
That weekend, the Sink Hollow USU English department newsletter staff had a little party at Professor Ballam's house, and her old graduate school mentor from another state was a guest speaker and he talked about graduate school. After he concluded and we were all mingling and eating together and other things that we used to be able to do, I very carefully avoided eye contact with him, but he still walked right over to me and engaged me in conversation about whether I'd considered graduate school. He took a break and just worked for a year between degrees, he said, and maybe I would need to do that, but graduate school was really great.
So at this point I acknowledged God's subtle nudges and decided to do graduate school.
Then because of personal issues and stresses coming up I didn't send in the application by the January 15, 2019 deadline. That in and of itself wasn't a disaster. They would still consider applications received after that date. But as soon as the deadline passed, I stopped rushing to get it finished and shifted my focus to all the other unwelcome crap going on. I let it go for a few weeks, then a few months, and then it was August and I came to the realization that this wasn't going to happen and I needed to just apply for next year instead. The decision wasn't hard to make at all. When you get to be as old as I am, one more year is nothing. If I knew I had only one more year to wait for any given blessing that I anticipate or hope for, I would be giddy with joy. I knew the time would zip by like a dream. And it did.
Crap happened and got in the way again. The deadline this year, in fact, was the day after the worst day of my life so far that both of my regular readers must be sick of hearing about. I got part of the application submitted and then tried to do the rest under less than ideal conditions such as being about as tired and suicidal as I've ever been, and also I had to wait on the letters of recommendation because I hadn't given those professors enough notice to quite get them in on time. But I didn't worry about the deadline and I didn't worry about doing the greatest job at fulfilling the requirements spelled out in pompous academic jargon which, in my mental state at the time, felt overwhelmingly complicated. I knew that as soon as the university saw my letters of recommendation and my writing sample they wouldn't be able to turn me down. My writing sample was the story "Lunatics", which, fittingly, I wrote for Charles' class. The praise it received from him and others, as well as the feedback and opportunity to revise, gave me great confidence in its merits even if it was just a fun science fiction adventure.
I didn't come right out and ask to be a graduate instructor. I figured God would make that happen regardless since He's the one who first told me to go into teaching. But I did name-drop Charles a couple times in the application, mentioning that he thought I would be good at it. A few weeks later the university accepted my application, and a few weeks after that they offered me the job. I had until April 15 to accept or decline. I waited a week so I wouldn't look desperate, and then of course I accepted. Something changed then. In January when the world's most apathetic social worker asked me if I had things to stay alive for, I gave her the answers she wanted to hear even though I could think of nothing in that category. But now I did have something - a contractual obligation to the university and my future students.
And after that, I got occasional emails about it but they told me almost nothing until this month. My official hire date, although it had been treated as set in stone long before then, was the seventeenth, and then this past week I had virtual orientation with the other new graduate instructors and finally learned what exactly I'm supposed to do. I kind of assumed, since I have almost zero experience and the training is so brief and they're putting me in charge of a class just like that, that they would tell me exactly what to teach and when to teach it all semester. Otherwise how could they trust me not to screw it up? But actually, they just told me the course objectives and the assignments and readings to give my students, and I basically get/have to plan every lesson around those things as I see fit. One of my courses is a practicum taught by Beth, who led the orientation, and through that she'll keep guiding and advising us throughout the semester. But still. So much trust. So much pressure. And I felt like I had made a terrible mistake and become a part of this scholarly intellectual group under false pretenses. The first four days of orientation were like
Actually, the course notes given to help us plan our lessons are a lot more structured than they would have been otherwise because of the unique nature of this semester (and I suppose I'll have to be trained all over again in a decade or so when things return to normal), so thank providence for small favors. Most of my new colleagues don't have teaching experience either. A couple of them don't even have bachelor's degrees in English. All of us share the same anxiety. So we've discussed and come to the realization that this anxiety is normal and we'll do fine. In my case, though, it messed up my sleep even worse than usual and gave me random nightmares about Elmyra torturing Sylvester and Tweety or a stranger sneaking into the basement of my childhood home, which in turn made it more difficult to focus during orientation or retain anything from the reading and I feared it would spiral out of control but it's fine now.
My overall feelings toward further education and teaching have totally changed. I'm excited for the opportunity to interact with these students and make a positive difference in their lives and warn them against all the mistakes I made as an undergrad and awaken their potential as writers and instill them with a love of writing and indoctrinate them with my political and social views. (I think I'll give extra credit for an essay on why the police suck.) Nah, that last part is a joke, although the English department is on a big anti-racism kick this semester and it's mostly a faculty thing but I'm curious if there will be any pushback from young Utahans who have never talked to a black person before and don't think racism still exists. One of my responsibilities in this position, they told me, is to help students from marginalized demographics succeed and be heard in an academic environment that was constructed around the preferences and norms of middle-class white people. Again, pressure, but I'll do my best.
Also, one of my new colleagues made me think, She's really cute, but why does she look so familiar? And then I realized that if she dyed her hair and wore blue-tinted glasses, she would be indistinguishable from my delusional ex-neighbor who caused me such suffering. I mean she literally has the same face. She must have stolen it. So I guess my ex-neighbor only has one face now.
So that's how I got to this point, and that's why in the near future I won't likely be able to continue writing such long and thoughtful blog posts as I have hitherto written. A great loss to the world, I know. But I will continue to post something every week, even if it's just "Look at one of my favorite cartoons."
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.