Like many who become English majors in college and train to become teachers, I started out on the road to professor-dom simply because I LOVED READING SO SO VERY VERY MUCH. I read at the dinner table, I read during family get-togethers, I read in the car, I read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. Reading was and is my addiction.
From middle school until college, I devoted myself to reading as many “classic” authors as I could: Dickens, Austen, Fielding, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Twain, Wharton, Ellison, Melville, etc.
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And my mom enabled me. During the summer before college, we were throwing around ideas for my future profession, and I declared that I would be a Writer of Novels. We decided that I couldn’t really count on that for a stable income (since I wasn’t exactly churning out the prose like a prodigy or anything). I came up with a brilliant solution: I would become a Professaaahhhh of Literachaaaah to support my real passion for writing. Perfect. Great plan. What could go wrong.
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Because I went to a small college, I never had any TAs (teaching assistants), so when I became one myself during grad school…well…shock, fear, disappointment, panic: you get the picture.
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Of course, we had received some TA training, and I had sat in on other TA sections, but still. It was me versus them, and I finally had my opportunity to unleash my love of words and ideas on students whose minds were supposed to be open. To say my first couple semesters of teaching were a bit rocky would be an understatement. And by “rocky,” I mean uninspired, dull, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing, streaked here and there with interesting after-class discussions and a few interested kids.
It wasn’t the literature’s fault, or the students’ fault. It was up to me to make these kids see the beauty of Henry James’s sentences, or the twisted brilliance of Gilman’s famous story. But all I wanted to do was rant (as I used to to my family and friends) about my love of such-and-such a character, or my admiration of this or that writer. Gushing, though, didn’t move my students. And only then did I understand that reading a book and teaching it are not necessarily connected. The teacher must make connections. She must reach her students…somehow. Even if they are of different generations and have wildly different interests and outlooks on life.
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So it took a while, but I learned from my colleagues and from experience something that everyone eventually learns: that just because you love to read, doesn’t mean teaching literature is simply an extension of it. If you’re meant to be a teacher, that’s what you’ll do. But no one makes it easy for you. You don’t just live in a world of ideas and words- you have to deal with all of the administrative stuff that goes with it. You have to perform, entertain, excite, and grade grade grade and hold office hours and also read all those books you assigned.
I will always love the idea of teaching, and I’d like to teach again at some point in the future. But thankfully I was introduced to other literary spheres: publishing, blogging, reviewing. Working at a press, writing for Book Riot, and starting my own bookish blog have shown me that there’s a whole other world out there where you can express your love for this author or that book and other people will feel the same way.
Link to the rest at BookRiot