Many writers find themselves on a path that leads them to the classroom and I am no different. Teaching literature, composition, or creative writing is an excellent way to use your love for the written word to make money and make a difference.
My teacher life started in graduate school where I taught poetry and communication classes to undergrads. Several years later after leaving my full-time job as a newspaper reporter I would return to the classroom, this time as a full-time high school English teacher at my alma mater.
Because of the success I had in the classroom in grad school and because of my deep love for the school at which I was teaching I thought my first year as a full-time teacher would be easy.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My first year as a full-time teacher was terrible. No, not Dangerous Minds terrible. We don’t really have serious disciplinary troubles at my school. I teach at a school for kids gifted in the fine arts and sciences, a school kids have to audition or test for and thus they actually want to be there.
But my first year was terrible, nonetheless. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I was stressed to the max. It was as if I had gone back in time to my first year of high school when I was equally stressed, lost, and confused.
One day was particularly challenging because I’d spent the night before in the ER with my mom. Looking back, I should have called in sick that day, but being the new kid on the block I was scared to take days off. That day, in a sleep-deprived stupor, I went to a colleague and asked her how she balanced work and life. Her answer surprised me: “I don’t,” she said. “Teaching is a lifestyle.”
At the time her answer also annoyed me because to me it seemed to be no answer at all. I walked away and locked myself in my classroom to cry.
Now, seven years later, I think I know what she meant.
I have learned that teaching spills over into every part of my life, even my writing life.
See Jane Write, for example, is essentially a form of teaching. It’s my way of teaching grownup girls! It’s a way for me to live out the Ethiopian proverb, “She who learns, teaches.” As I strive to grow as a writer and as an entrepreneur I am learning many, many lessons. And whatever I learn, whether from a success or a setback, I pass on that lesson to the women of the See Jane Write community. I do the same through blogging and through the column I write for B-Metro magazine called Write Like a Girl.
For years I not only thought I could draw a line between work and life, I thought I could even separate writing and teaching.
I tried so hard to keep these two identities of mine — writer and teacher — separate. I never talked about my blog at work and since I often shared my blog posts via social media, I never accepted Facebook friend requests from students and I kept my Twitter account locked so I could control who followed me. But then one day a student came up to my desk and said to me the words I never wanted to hear: “Mrs. Bowser, you know I read your blog.”
I wanted to hide under my desk.
I know it was completely irrational for me to believe I could keep something hidden on the Internet, but sometimes I am completely irrational.
It’s not that I ever write anything on any of my websites that I think would get me fired. I write about writing and women’s empowerment. There’s nothing scandalous going on in my corners of cyberspace. But a part of me worried that if my students saw that I was essentially juggling another career it would make them feel I wasn’t truly dedicated to them, that I wasn’t serious about teaching, which is a particular concern for me because I was a full-time journalist first and teaching is a second career for me.
But I was completely wrong about that. My students LOVE the fact that I have a thriving writing career in addition to my teaching career.
I’ve had students write on my teacher evaluation forms that knowing that I am a writer makes them want to listen to what I tell them about essay composition. They’ve said they know I’m telling them that writing is important because I actually believe that is, not because I’m paid to say so.
I’ve had students say that reading my writing makes them want to improve their own.
And I’ve even had students say that the work ethic I must have to juggle two careers inspires them to “stop watching Netflix all the time and do something with [their] life.”
I used to think that “teaching is a lifestyle” meant that teaching must be my whole life, as in I should be all work and no play. But teaching is a lifestyle because I am always learning and I am always striving to pass on the things I’ve learned and I’m always striving to set a good example.
Teaching is a lifestyle and so is writing and being a writer who teaches is like being a superhero, no costume or clever disguise necessary.