The life decision ahead, Part 2…

Well, I’ve done the economic calculations, I’ve been having meetings with various school offices and departments, and I’ve received a load of commentary and advice from people around me, but I still haven’t made a decision whether I’m going to study to be a teacher this year.

After talking with my good friend Bruin today, I feel a little bit more space to imagine some other possibilities, and I realized that maybe I don’t have to rush into a decision like I’ve been thinking. Do I really have to lock myself into a decision this year? Is the window really that small, or is it something that I’ve created out of the sense of life/financial urgency that I feel because of all my responsibilities? What would happen if I took it a little easier for a year, experimented with other types of work and living, spent some more time with my writing, thinking, and non-paid organizing? What could I discover about my economic possibilities? What could I discover about potential work that I could love?

It’s true that I feel the urgency pretty intensely. I feel like I have to get moving on a career track, toward a stable salary, retirement, benefits. After struggling in the non-profit sector where funding is always scarce and intermittent, I’m tired of constantly doubting whether I’ll have work 3 months from now. I’m tired of having no ability to plan or save beyond the short term. That’s one of the really compelling things about pursuing a profession like teaching–though I recognize the instability in that field as well. I would like the financial question to have more consistent and automatic answers, so that I can spend my mental energy on other things.

But what other things? This is the question that I’d like to have more time to explore. I’m worried that public school teaching will so focus my mental energies on the students, my classes, my planning, the bureaucracy, that all of the thinking, reading, organizing, and building that I’m doing toward bigger change, toward bigger learning, will be significantly diminished. The stuff in this blog, the revolutionary congregations, the popular education questions, the strategic questions…all things that I wish I had hundreds of hours of more free time to further develop and actually test with other people…will teaching be compatible with that, or will the bulk of this–which really is critical to the me that I like best–be sacrificed?

And here’s where I actually notice a martyr tendency in myself. I feel like I have no right to continue getting paid to do explicitly revolutionary work or thinking, and that I should thus sacrifice myself to a career track that I know will not use my full abilities. Because teaching will not use my full abilities. It will use my abilities to plan good curriculum, yes. It’ll use my abilities to work with youth, support them personally, and help them ask critical questions, yes. It’ll even hopefully use my abilities to help institutions move toward more justice and youth empowerment, sure. But a lot of the bigger picture thinking, movement building, theory work, visionary work etc. will not be stretched that far in the teaching path.

Let’s look at it this way, using the economic concept of comparative advantage. There is a limited supply of radical people, and especially of skilled radical thinkers, organizers, movement builders. There is a much more abundant supply of liberal/progressive type people. If you take the radical people and the liberal/progressive people and have them both doing sort of under the table work or random work for pay, and then organizing in their free time, I think the radical people have an especially unique and important contribution from their free-time organizing. At the end of the day, the radicals will add something to the world that the liberal/progressives would not have added. Now, if you take those same two people and have them focusing most of their energy and time on being good teachers, I would argue that both the liberals/progressives and the radicals will actually end up making more or less the same contribution towards youth and toward educational change. That is, I don’t think radicals have that much uniquely to offer in the teaching field as the many more prevalent liberal/progressive folks. At the end of the day, I think liberals/progressives are similarly capable of being great teachers, and so the fact that we’re radical has much less impact on the world if we are teachers than if we are in the streets organizing. I fear that my own unique skills, interests, and abilities will be less utilized as a public school teacher than if I was doing something else…even working random lower wage work that gives me free time to write and organize.

But I shut this line of thinking down pretty fast. How dare I suggest that I have a unique contribution to make. How dare I suggest that teaching isn’t a maximum use of my personality and potential. And what about my internalized need to show success to my parents and family? What about the financial obligations to Glendi’s family?

I just don’t know what to do. But one piece of advice that Bruin gave me is really useful. I want to at least take these days before my decision to think about the other viable options, and really think about them as viable options. I don’t want to make my decision from a place of feeling trapped or rushed. I want to be able to own this decision this time.

If you’ve read this, feel free to chime in!

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Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi

Jeremy, I agree with you about what radicals can contribute compared to liberals/progressives in different contexts.

I guess the question I have for you is, will working a different (maybe low wage) job actually give you more free time or reduce your stress levels so that you can do more of the sort of organizing and revolutionary thinking that you’d like to do? What about organizing on the job? If you do that, then there are advantages and disadvantages to being a teacher or, say, a custodian.

That’s my $0.02. Good luck with your decision!