Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Next? Existential Crises, Part 1

[Not a lot of "travel" in this post, but feel free to read on for the
latest personal crap.]

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
– J.R.R. Tolkien

But that's SO HARD.

With January came the inevitable realization that my time in France is
almost half over already, and with it the inevitable mounting pressure
to figure out what happens after that. I have absolutely no idea. I
was supposed to be using my time here to figure it out, which hasn't
really happened for a number of reasons—not least of which is that the
fact that I didn't immediately hate my job made me revisit the idea of
trying serious teaching for a while.

Yesterday, I paid the bill for an online course that's going to result
in my having TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)

I'd been thinking about this for a while, A) because I need to be
using my time more wisely and this is something productive I can be
doing, and B) because it seems like a way to give my employability a
boost, even if it's not exactly job insurance. I talked to my mom
about it before Christmas (a conversation that was more or less a long
series of variations on me saying "But I don't know if this is really
what I want to do, and I might end up never using it," and her saying,
"But you have the time now, and then you'll HAVE it if you need it."),
and mentioned the idea to some friends, but it still took me a while
to commit.

Some people have trouble committing to relationships. I have trouble
committing to life decisions, even relatively small and flexible ones.
I put off declaring a major until I absolutely had to, even though I
knew what I was going to do for months. I put off applying to TAPIF
until the very last minute, and still wasn't sure I wanted to do it if
I got accepted.

It's not so much the decision to take the course that I was balking
at, it's what taking the course represents to me. I had to admit that
I wanted to do it because I want to use that certification. Not just
because it was something to do, and not even just because it seemed
like a good idea. Because I want it.

I won't get into the details about my mixed feelings about teaching,
because I'm pretty sure I already wrote about that before I came to
France. The update is that I still feel awkward and uncertain, and I
definitely have days where I dread going to class and/or hate the way
a lesson goes (not to mention days where I just want certain students
to just disappear), but there are times where I really enjoy planning
my lessons and have a lot of fun in the classroom. And now I'm
thinking, maybe this isn't so bad, and maybe I'm not so terrible at
it, and maybe I could do this again/more/for real/somewhere else.
(Interestingly, this seems to be the opposite reaction to the one many
of my friends here have had.) So I've begun thinking about finding an
English teaching job somewhere else for a year or two, in addition to
my plan to re-apply to this program next year and hopefully get an
assistant placement in one of France's overseas departments, ideally
French Guiana (I miss the jungle; have I mentioned that enough
times?). Even more serious, [read: frightening] I've begun seriously
revisiting the idea of applying to the Teach For America program, an
idea I had toyed with several years ago and subsequently abandoned
because I'd become so sure I didn't want to be a teacher. I've
mentioned to my parents that I'm reconsidering it, and I even went so
far as to discuss it with Sam, which I know means it's a big deal,
because I'm a private-bordering-on-secretive person and I normally
wouldn't bring something like that up with a friend unless I was
pretty sure about it.

The problem? Actually, there are two of them, but I'll deal with the
other in a later post. The problem I'm concerned with here is that
it's a diversion, and a pretty major one. Pursuing this certificate,
pursuing teaching at all, represents turning away from where I was
supposed to be going. If we can assume/pretend that I was even loosely
following some vague impression of a path before now, this is
definitely a step in a totally different direction. I'm going to be an
archaeologist, I keep telling people. I'm going to grad school for
archaeology. But that was originally supposed to happen two or three
years after college. It's already been pushed back to at least three,
because I have to wait at least a year before I can do what I'm going
now again (unless I want to renew my contract and stay in this region,
which I don't—no offense, Bretagne). Teach For America is a two-year
commitment; that's at least four years. If I start looking for other
jobs in other places—if I try to find somewhere to put this TESOL
certificate to use—how many years will that be? Then there are so many
other things I was wanting to try before applying to go back to
school. What if I just keep pushing back grad school and don't go
until I'm thirty?

What if I don't go at all?

And yet, if I'm honest with myself, and with everyone around me, I
have to admit that I really meant it when I said this year was a
litmus test of sorts, to see if I enjoy teaching and if I'm cut out
for it. I'm still not sure about the latter, but I now know the former
is at least sometimes true.

And if I'm even more honest with myself, I have to admit that there's
a part of me that feels a little guilty for pursuing archaeology
instead of doing something that makes a difference. Not that I don't
think archaeology makes a difference, not that I don't think
archaeology is important—obviously I do. Honestly, what I'd really
love to teach is social studies or history and get kids thinking about
the past. I'm just not convinced that archaeology is the same kind of
meaningful that teaching, or at least good teaching, is. I guess
someone has to do the research before anyone can teach it, but...

Clearly I can't express what I'm trying to there, so let's move on.
Last spring I counseled some friends a year younger than me against
going to graduate school immediately after college if they were unsure
about what they wanted. I told them about how I went straight to
college from high school even though I wasn't sure about it, and what
a disaster that turned out to be (aside from the fact that it led me
to some of my best friends), and I told them why I wasn't going
straight to grad school. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do yet, I
said, and I needed some time to figure it out. Just as importantly, I
had a lot of other things I wanted to do that had nothing to do with
school or my intended career path, and I was afraid if I didn't do
them before grad school, I'd get bogged down and never do them at all.

One of the examples I cited was this year teaching in France. Because
I was totally planning to do this and then be done and go right back
to archaeology, or at least on to the next irrelevant thing to check
off the list.

What happens when the things that aren't relevant become a new set of plans?

Before Christmas, I wrote about detours. This is either a very long
detour or it's a fork in the road. I'm afraid I might have to walk
pretty far before I find out which one. I know which one I want it to
be, but that might not mean much in the end. Because things are always
changing, and I just keep moving forward. Hell, I thought I was going
to be an English major. I thought I was going to marry my last
boyfriend and settle down young, like my mother. I thought I was going
to spend this year being lonely and speaking mostly French. Who ever
knows where anything is going.

So I'm taking this course...

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