One Way to Negotiate When You Lose a Dream

Dear readers: I have not fallen off the edge of the earth. I have been so busy at my day job, that I have not been able to work at what I love–creative writing. At least I can say I have a job in my field. But, I’d like to share why I work in marketing and communications instead of teaching, which was my dream.

When I received my MFA in creative writing 11 years ago, I was sure I would get a teaching job “just like that” mostly because I’d wanted to be a teacher since I was nine, and wasn’t that enough? I taught through my graduate programs, and took every teaching class that I could. And I was so passionate. I loved my students.

I did land a teaching job for a year, and I loved it. It was at a university, with 24 first-year students in English Composition and Rhetoric and Persuasive Writing. For one 17-week course, I designed the curriculum around gun control (pro or con) so the students could really delve into one issue. We watched Bowling for Columbine; they wrote annotated bibliographies; they presented their thesis statements before their classmates for critique; and we also watched Heathers.

One of my students vanished before the annotated bibs were due. “Missing Student” didn’t send me an email, she missed more than the allowed five classes, and I figured like so many others before her while I was a teaching assistant, she would simply fail. Let me interject: I hate to fail students. My heart is bigger than my red pen. When I first started teaching in 2000, I called students at home when they missed class. (Feel free to laugh.) By 2005, I’d learned that you can’t save every student, and you have to let them make their own decisions.

Fast forward to week 15. The rough draft of the term paper was due–an analysis of Bowling for Columbine in which each student took a stance for or against gun control and used scenes from the movie and other research as evidence. We were about to get started when in walked Missing Student. I shook my head and wanted to say, “I’m sorry. Why are you here?”

She asked to speak with me. She handed me a rough draft of her term paper: Stem Cell Research. Forget she’d missed the limit of classes, the annotated bib, and the thesis statement presentation. Missing Student started crying in front of the entire class, told me she’d been having a rough time and couldn’t I just let her come back. In 2000, I might have said yes. But in 2005, with the university policy hovering above my head, and my new convictions, I said no. And I gave her an F.

Weeks after the semester ended, my boss called me at home and said Missing Student’s mother phoned him, saying, “Why can’t my daughter receive a No Pass instead of an F?” My boss asked me to change the grade. I said no. I was following the university’s policy–any student with more than five absences and a zero in any other section of the course received an F. He said, “Come on.” I said, no.

The following fall, I walked into the bookstore to see what courses I was teaching. Zero. My knees buckled, and I almost started crying. I was told that “Enrollment was down.” But my peers from grad school still had their sections. And they also still teach at that same university now.

After working as a secretary for a year, I landed a job as a copy writer at another university. The pay was more than what I had been making as an adjunct, and I received full benefits. For nine years now, I’ve been working as a marketing and communications specialist. I write creative nonfiction and poetry in my spare time, and I’ve had a few teaching gigs at a community college. (Which I love!)

My father’s dream was to be an astronaut. But he had poor eyesight, asthma, allergies, and sought full custody of my brother and me after a bitter divorce. He apprenticed in shoe-repair and made a good living fixing shoes and crafting leather. Did he love it? No. But he smiled a lot, had a great sense of humor and was one hell of a good father. He’s often my inspiration to keep plugging along.

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