Missed the Boat

Question of the Day: What were you talked out of doing that you are going to do the next time you have a chance?

Charlie, my department head at college, sent me an email. I do not remember the exact words as I have long since deleted the email, but this was the essence:

Dear Ryk,

An opening has occurred at our college for a temporary full-time English instructor. Are you interested?

Interested? Of course I was! I was in the 12th the year of teaching high school on what was originally supposed to be a 10-year plan. I had told myself at the beginning of my career that I was going to teach high school for 10 years and then move on to teaching college. That plan had gotten waylaid, however, when I received my National Board Certification. This was a lengthy process that I had undertaken, and aside from the prestige of the position, the certification included a yearly bonus for the next 10 years. I still had six years of bonuses waiting for me as long as I continued teaching high school English.

But teaching college was what I really wanted to do, and I had been working as an adjunct professor for the last five years. Maybe this was my shot. I read on:

If so, you would have a full-time class load for the next three years, minus one semester. Please note that this position is advertised as “temporary” because at that time you would revert to an adjunct status (unless, of course, you were able to attain a permanent full-time position in the meantime).

Let me know if you’re interested.

Best Wishes,

Charlie

Well, that wasn’t quite as good, was it? I mean, if it worked out to be something full-time, great; if not, however, I was going to have to go back to teaching high school as I looked for another college position. But still, full-time college classes – no discipline problems, no parent phone calls, none of the silliness from upper-level administration and government that we have to deal with in high school. And I love teaching college, all the time! Don’t get me wrong: I like teaching high school as well. I wouldn’t continue to do it if I didn’t like it. But college offers me opportunities for professional growth and intellectual development that high school only plays at.

I went back and forth on this, but ultimately I talked myself out of it. It was the whole “temporary” thing that did me in. I wasn’t willing to gamble on the future.

Because here is what I had: I had 12 years invested in the high school where I was teaching. I was well respected and had a group of friends I could rely on. I had a great science fiction and fantasy club that gave me the opportunity to enjoy playing games once a week. I was the literary magazine advisor and had a class every day teaching creative writing. The administration liked me, my department colleagues liked me, I had friends outside my department. I had National Board Certification bonuses to look forward to.

In other words, I had built myself a nice comfortable niche. I was all burrowed in, like a mouse that has chewed up just the right amount of wood shavings to keep it warm and nestled all winter long. And I knew that if I left that school for three years, that position might not be there anymore. I might be able to come back and teach English there (I really loved that school), but someone else would be teaching creative writing. Someone else would be Science Fiction & Fantasy Club sponsor. I would have been forgotten.

And so, I wrote back to Charlie to say thanks but no thanks. I explained my reasons and he understood. End of story.

But not really. Because now, five years later, I have changed schools and it just isn’t the same. I still sponsor the Science Fiction & Fantasy Club, but there are six members instead of 30. This school does not offer a creative writing elective. I revived the literary magazine here, which had lain dormant for over a decade, but we receive less than half the number of submissions I’m used to and we have to do all the work after school on our own time. Really, on my own time: We do not have computers nor do I have time to train students in how to use the graphic imaging software, so for the past three years I have given up the majority of my Spring Break to put the magazine together. Even then, I sell less than 100 copies to a school of more than 2000. And now I’m not even teaching honors English, which is what I was hired to do. I am teaching remedial reading. I don’t actually have a problem teaching remedial reading – I love to read and hope that my enthusiasm carries through to the children – but when I moved to this school it was to teach honors English. Remember how I mentioned intellectual development and professional growth? Not so much of that now.

So, in retrospect, I wish that I had taken advantage of the opportunity that Charlie offered me. But it’s one of those situations that I would not have done differently unless I knew what I didn’t know. So it’s a missed opportunity, one that I talked myself out of, and I wonder what would be different about my life had I chosen differently.

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