Decisions, Descisions

I meant to talk about Origins. It was amazing on many levels, and I will definitely get to that in later posts. But I came home to a professional decision that’s really weighing on me, even though I think I know what I’m going to do. And I’m going to assume that others will find insight in the ramblings of my conflicted mind, so you’re stuck working through this with me! Yay!!

In so many ways, I’m an incredibly lucky person. Thanks to a wonderful husband who keeps a roof over our heads, food on the table, and health insurance for the family, I don’t have to worry about having a job that provides the necessities. I’m not talking about leaving a secure job I hate to pursue an uncertain dream. Whatever choice I make, things will be fine. However, the choice that I’ve been making for the past three or so years–frantically juggling everything and hoping it will all work out–just isn’t viable now. I need to look at closing some doors on some things I really love to do and which have become a significant part of my identity. (And yes, these doors may not close permanently. It’s quite possible this decision feels a lot bigger than it is on a practical level. But I know that personally once I head down one hallway, I don’t usually head back. So it has a feeling of permanence.)

So, here’s the issue:

I’m a teacher. I’ve taught 7th, 8th, and 10th grade English, but for the past decade I’ve been teaching the freshman writing class at Penn State and I love it. OK, I hate the grading, and I complain about the stupidity, immaturity, and neediness of some of the students (although secretly I love to have those stories to tell, so that one is mixed). But when it comes down to it, I love to teach. I love class discussions. I love working one on one with students to improve their writing. I love watching the light bulbs come on and knowing they’ll always be a little different for coming into contact with me, even if I annoyed the crap out of them sometimes. Being a teacher, and to some extent being a teacher at a well known university, is a large part of my identity. And that university is struggling with budget cuts which ironically makes my job more secure because I’m part time with no benefits–they can still afford me when they have to let the full time people go. I tried to take some time off this coming year, but they’re asking me to help bail them out because they don’t have enough instructors for all the sections they need to offer.

I’m also an editor. I’ve been freelance editing for about 6 years now, and I’ve finally reached the point where, to be honest if slightly boastful, the list of books I’ve worked on is pretty impressive. I’m in contact with a lot of really amazing people that I want to learn from and work with, and now I’m in a position where I can do that. I’ve also proven myself enough that I’m getting the opportunity to take on greater responsibility with some publishers. Simply put, I’ve made it now. I can find more than enough editing work to fill whatever time I can give it. And I love to edit. I love working with writers and designers all over the world while I sit in my living room. I love feeling like I’ve helped make a book be as good as it can be. And I absolutely love seeing hard copies of books I’ve worked on and hearing from the people who have fun playing these games.

I’m also a mom and a wife. And these wonderful people mean more than anything in the world to me. I know they’ll deal if I spend all my time working on the other jobs I love, but I don’t want to miss out on experiences with them just because they don’t give me deadlines. I don’t want them to give up their dreams so I can follow mine. They’re the ones who lose the most when I’m overextended because I don’t want to make the hard choices of what doors to close.

So I have some choices to make. I faced the same thing last semester and I couldn’t choose–I basically worked two jobs while my family picked up the slack. We survived, but in an “emergency mode” kind of way. It’s not sustainable, and this coming year looks even busier. So I have to say no to something, letting down people I like in the process and probably feeling hideously guilty ‘cause I’m like that. I have to accept that the doors I close now might not open again later. It would be easier if I hated one of these paths or if one of them just didn’t feel right, but that’s not the case.

Still, there’s one that feels a little more right, not just for me but for my family. As hard as it will be, come fall I probably won’t be able to say that I teach writing at Penn State; if my editing career takes off the way it seems poised to, that might be permanent. This makes me both excited and sad. Change from one great thing to another is bittersweet.

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8 Responses to Decisions, Descisions

  1. Steve Segedy says:

    There will always be a shortage of good composition teachers, so you can always go back to that. I say take advantage of the small publisher editing budgets while you can!

  2. Clark Valentine says:

    We’re with you all the way, no matter what you choose. But remember this – turning in your faculty ID card doesn’t mean you stop being a teacher.

    • ayvalentine says:

      Thanks, sweetie! And you speak truth – I’ll probably always be a teacher at heart, no matter what I’m doing. But it will be weird when it’s no longer my job description.

  3. Matthew D. Gandy says:

    This sounds a bit like Sunk Cost Fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_cost): you’ve “invested” a lot of time, effort, and identity into the Penn State teaching gig, and you feel like you have to keep doing it or risk losing all that “investment.”

    The likelihood is you won’t lose anything, but the fear is still real.

    More importantly, though, it sounds like *you’ve* made up your mind, and that’s all that matters. If you’re looking for external feedback, I’ll just say, “trust your instincts, you’ve already decided, so go with that decision.” :)

    • ayvalentine says:

      The identity of teaching at Penn State matters to me, far beyond the investment I’ve put into it. I can’t fully put my finger on it, though I’ll try to explain some of it – in addition to enjoying teaching itself, I like being able to say “Oh, yes, I teach writing at Penn State.” People know what to do with that, they tend to respect it, etc. In a college town, it puts me in a comfortable category where it’s clear who I am and how I fit in. That sounds so middle school, and it isn’t, really, I don’t think. Maybe it is. But that identity has been a bit of an anchor, keeping me connected to my community in a way. Cutting that loose is nerve-wracking, esp. since I’m quite happy in that identity.

      But, regardless, I’ve pulled that trigger at least for fall semester. And the PSU scheduling coordinator was supportive and wonderful, as I knew she would be, which in some ways makes it that much harder to tell her no! :)

  4. Scott Williams says:

    Yeah, we’re facing a similar decision point coming soon here. Actually, it’s really two decision points.

    The first is mine. I love teaching, but I’m not particularly tied to Weatherford. In fact, truth be told, I’d be happier in a lot of other places more than teaching here. I enjoy teaching, and I really do want to continue teaching, but there’s little to really tie me to Weatherford at this point. Of course, there’re also other options of things I would like to do. I like educational technology, but that is a totally separate field with low salary potential and not much room for advancement. I tried to become department chair this year, and was voted down by my colleagues, but administration is also an option. The problem with administration is that I’d be going into it out of a hope to change things for the better, but that doesn’t seem to happen much from what I have seen. The final option is what is currently my side job, working on reviewing and writing questions for textbooks. That’s something I could currently do, but I’d have to be offered a job in that field to change. So, what I really have as an option is moving to a different teaching job, but the job prospects are so bad right now that it’s not likely to happen. Plus, there’s what Amanda is planning to do as well.

    And that’s our second decision point. Amanda (my Amanda, of course) is graduating next spring with a degree in art history and a minor in photography. She has no idea what she is going to do after that, and the job market is certainly not good. She could apply for jobs at art galleries, get a Master’s in art history, get an MFA in photography, get a Master’s in library science, or many other things. The problem is, we don’t know which way to go at this point, and we don’t know where we want to live or where we can live.

    So, do we stay here, where I have a stable job with a decent salary and good benefits? Do I find a new job and then we move and find someplace where Amanda can do something (again, Penn State would be a great grad school for what she wants to do)? Do we just move somewhere and hope we can both get a job there?

    So, what am I saying here? I understand your problem with the decisions as they are difficult. Having kids makes it even more difficult, of course, as giving up things like health insurance makes things almost impossible. Of course, I’m also speaking from the perspective of the one with the full-time job, whereas you and Amanda are both on the other end. There’s just no easy answer at all.

    • ayvalentine says:

      Health insurance is the real kicker, esp. when there are kids involved. I really want to tell you about opportunities here because I would love it if you guys moved back to PA, but most of them are going to be part time type things with few to no benefits. I don’t envy you these decisions. I feel incredibly grateful that I don’t have to deal with those kinds of outside concerns.

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