This month I put to words something that I had been nudging, getting the shape of, for a while. I’ve been teaching for over a decade, though I accepted my first job expecting to leave the profession after a few years, when I was ready to start an MFA program. I like teaching. But when I think about being part of the field of education, I don’t aspire to do more than keep a classroom and become better at teaching. Meanwhile I’ve watched many colleagues and friends take on other roles in the field. And sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t clamber for a new title too. But what I really want is to be a great writer. So I practice this craft at the loss of tallying credits toward a masters in education, at the loss of school leadership, at the loss of a raise. Occasionally I wonder how long I hold this split: it seems I might be a great teacher or a great writer but teaching full-time and cobbling time to draft and revise means I’m good at both (even very good, catch me on the right day), but not great at either. I’m only good for the consistent practice. Ten more years of this creative tension and I’ll be exhausted but great.
So I’d been looking for a way to say this. I haven’t found the best way. But when I had my students write one long sentence telling a complete story, I told a kind of story too. Part profile. Part rumination. I chose to write about myself in the third person which helped me cut through the noise and say what I wanted.
Great At ___/ The Only One For ___
This year Sarah Marslender returned to teaching full-time after four years of teaching part-time because her writing career remains an unpaid fantasy (let’s say this really is her fault and she knows it, because she’s a squawking chicken about collecting rejections from literary magazines and because she isn’t sure she is a brand anyone wants to publish and because she’d rather not stay up past nine for this fantasy, instead wishing for an editor or agent to magically materialize and insist she take sabbatical and finish what she’s started: a multigenre collection tacked together piece by piece over the last five years and showing readers what mattered/ matters to this woman/ wife/ mom/ writer/ friend/ teacher) but also because she is good at teaching and likes it well enough that she’ll probably keep teaching in some capacity for years to come and, more, she wants to figure out better ways to teach writing and revision and developing flow while you write (something she is desperate to hold onto for more than an hour at a time herself) and she wants to help you instill discipline in your practice (something she has by way of games she plays, like filling a notebook a month) – yes, Sarah wants good things in her classroom but this month she also craves being told she is good at what she does because like every other thing that sucks her time and talent, teaching remains a fairly thankless profession if you have anything but a selfless mindset or take to heart the Facebook posts about how great teachers/ teaching is and Sarah thinks this is because there is a high moral expectation for educators, that teaching is akin to taking religious vows which spur dedicated teachers to find even greater meaning outside the classroom, packing their schedules with voluntary committees, sports coaching and activities sponsoring; vows which spur dedicated teachers to pursue masters in education with an eye on curriculum or administration which may get them out of the classroom because that is one way to gain notice in the field, to leave the classroom and all that entails (grading, management, grading, planning, grading) to prove themselves as great educators by helping their colleagues better assess/ manage/ plan; Sarah is just embarrassed to realize that watching her fellow teachers grow into promotions at her school, chosen for positions they fit just right, has made her look at her own empty want of specialness, that icky taste in her mouth of wishing someone would look at Sarah Marslender and think She’d be great at ___/ She’s the only one for ___ and then she’s ashamed because she knows she’s needed and appreciated not only because Facebook regularly praises her profession but because she has relationships at school that matter for a semester or two or a year or so and many times much longer; oh, Sarah is embarrassed her ego was bruised by her colleagues’ deserved placements, which she didn’t even want for herself: no, it’s the wanting to be thought of as Perfect for ___ that kills her this month because what she’s perfect for is teaching and learning and adding up unpublished pages and making herself say it’s okay to matter in a hundred unsaid ways and it’s okay to keep balance like a quiet and flushed student thinking of an answer when someone asks what Sarah Marslender is great at/ the only one for.