Saturday, December 3, 2011


NOTE: I got the following email from one of my students today. My response is below.

Hey Brother Davidson-

Sorry to bug you... again! If it's any consolation, it's not related to any English 101 assignment. 

So, I'm having a really hard time trying to figure out what I want to study here at school. I've gone back and forth between multiple majors and can see the pros and cons of each, but I can't seem to come to a conclusion. This semester has added to the confusion because now I'm interested in being an English Major! So I thought I'd come to you and get an insider's opinion before making any decisions. So let me explain what my game plan is and see if that changes your thoughts on being an English Teacher. 

I plan on being a stay at home mom, but I will have my degree on hand just in case something happens to my husband. I realize that if something did happen to him, my family wouldn't be millionaires but we'd make it work. 

So! Here's my questions: 

-If you had to go back and do it all over again, would you still choose to be an English teacher? 
-Do you think I have a "knack" for English? Or should I not even waste my time? (Please be honest; I've got tough skin!) 
-Is the job satisfying? (I enjoy writing a lot! Is it the same kind of satisfaction as writing a great piece of work or not so much?)   
-Would you recommend teaching on the high school or college level? 
-Have you found English skills helpful in your family life? 
-Is the job demanding of your time? (Does it take away from potential fun recreational activities with the fam?)

I hope this isn't too personal or offensive. I would just really appreciate an honest answer straight from the source! 

Thanks so much for your time Brother Davidson!

Let me start out this way:

When I look back on my “career,” I wonder how in the world I could change it if I went back and started all over again.

I do know this: I’ve always been writing. Even as a kid, I made up stories and wrote them down. So when a high school English teacher suggested I join the school newspaper staff, I figured, what the heck? I found there the opportunity to write and get grades for it and school credit and all. I decided I liked journalism. So when high school was over, I decided to take on journalism as a major in college. At the same time, I took a lot of English courses simply because they gave me the opportunity to write. I worked on the staff of The Scroll at Ricks College, then the Argonaut at the University of Idaho. I also continued writing “creatively,” short stories, poems and such, and found an outlet to get them published (I have no idea on quality; they published anything, frankly).

I graduated in 1997 and also got married in 1997. My wife was teaching high school English at Sugar-Salem High School in Sugar City, Idaho. (More from her later.) I was lucky enough to get a job at a local newspaper.

Fast-forward a few years. I’d switched newspapers, going from a local paper that published a few times a week to a daily. My wife had left teaching because, well, I’ll let her tell you in a bit. Still happy writing, having fun.

Fast-forward a few more years. In 2005, I decided the last thing in the world I wanted to be was a journalist. I left the paper and spent a year “underemployed,” working in construction, at Target, and at a call center. Two words best describe 2005-06: It sucked.

Then in May 2006, I got a job offer – as a technical writer. Still writing, yes, but certainly not writing in the same style as a journalist. Loved it. So in 2007, I found an online program that would let me earn a masters degree in English with an emphasis on technical writing, so I jumped into that, working full-time as well. Finished that program in 2009, just in time for my wife to decide she wanted to do the same thing. At about the same time, I joined with a group of college friends writing at, a travel and photography social networking site that we started on our own.

The company I work for is on a government contract with a finite end to it – meaning they go through rounds of layoffs. I’ve survived a few, face a few more next year. Because of the uncertainty, I’ve kept my eye open for other work. I’ve tried a few times to get on full-time at BYU-Idaho (not as a teacher, I don’t have a PhD, which is generally what they want in a teacher), but on staff in some capacity. No luck there, though I pestered them with resumes. I did get on as an online adjunct faculty member, teaching English 101. Obviously, they thought I was a good fit for the job, given my background. So to sum up: I became a part-time English teacher in kind of a backwards way, starting out with a career in journalism, moving over to technical writing and then falling into teaching as well because the opportunity arose.

Would I go back and still choose to become an English teacher, if I had the opportunity?

If circumstances had not changed, probably.

But if another job opportunity had opened and, say, I were working at the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Utah (where I’ve also applied) or if I were still in journalism and not disenchanted by the industry, I don’t know. Circumstances, not a concrete plan in which I said I’m at Point A and will arrive at Point B, led me to the jobs I’ve got today.

What I’m saying is this: Get an education, but remain flexible. You don’t know where you’re going to end up. At least I didn’t know where I was going to end up. Some people pull a plan and stick with it and accomplish what they want. That’s great. I guess for that I’m saying this: What “works” for one person may or may not work for the next person to come along. I only know my circumstances. I only know how I approach life. I only know how I might react in certain situations under certain conditions, and then only conditionally – maybe I’ll react in a completely different manner when the moment arrives.

Is the job satisfying? That depends. It is certainly satisfying in that my part-time job and my full-time job give me the opportunity to feed my family and give them a house to live in. There are many aspects that are soul-satisfying as well (this email being one of them) but I’ve got to confess that for writing that is soul-satisfying, I’ve had to find time outside either job to pursue the dream of writing and publishing a novel. I’ve started several, just finished the first draft on a second, but am still groping into the darkness trying to figure out where to go from where I am now. Goals now are to revise these two novels (an entirely different task than writing one) and, to keep the soul-satisfaction going, start on a third.

Is the job demanding on my time? Any job will be. I put in 40 hours a week at my full-time job and about ten hours or so a week into teaching – that’s spread over two sections of 101. I’m “lucky” in that at the end of each work day I have a two-hour commute to get home, so I use that time to do a lot of paper-reading and grading and such. I don’t take a lunch at work, so I’m able to slip in some BYU-I time there as well. I’m also a night owl, and am up late doing teaching-related things.

That said, no, it doesn’t take away family time. I’ve tended to online classes while we’re at the beach, and my wife tended to classes while we took a tour through Nauvoo this summer. We just find ways to fit things around what we normally do. There may be weeks where I put in more time with English 101 than in other weeks. There are weeks when the family comes first. We just roll with what happens.
What I’m saying is this: Satisfaction comes in different shades and flavors, and you’ll find it if you look for it. Additionally, if something is important, whether It’s family-related or work-related or satisfaction-related, you’ll find ways to make everything fit.

Now – do you have the “knack for English”? You write that you enjoy writing. Yes, you have the knack. There’s only one way I know to get better at writing – and that’s to keep doing it. Fantasy author Ray Bradbury once said something that I think is excellent advice for writers: Write all the time, because about 99 percent of what you write is going to be not so good. You have to get it out of the way so the good stuff can come.

It’s pretty difficult to look to employment for satisfaction – the soul-satisfying kind – in writing. I wrote a lot as a journalist, but it was rarely the kind of writing I really wanted to do. My current job now has me writing a lot less than I did as a journalist, and it’s rarely the kind of writing I really want to do. The writing I really want to do comes in the inbetween times, on the bus, at lunch, on the weekends, the weeknights. I’ve written two novels as blog entries. I’ve collected information that I want to use in other stories. I read a lot and fret a lot about my writing, and then I set down to write again and think maybe in a while I’ll get good at it.

As for teaching high school versus college, well, I can’t say. I’ve only taught at the college level, and only just – I haven’t been teaching at BYU-I for more than a year.

My wife, I mentioned, taught high school English. She loved the students, but had more than enough headaches with administration and parents that after three years we decided she’d be better off doing something else. We’ve talked about this, and have concluded that part of what happened was that she got into teaching young, didn’t have time to develop a thicker skin. Looking back, she thinks that if she were to back into teaching now, she’d be better prepared. So I’m going to give a weasely answer to your question – I don’t know. Depends on a lot of different things, and how you’ll react to students, administrators, parents, etc., is likely to be different than my wife or I.

Have I found English skills to be helpful in my family life? Yes. And in some strange and interesting ways. First, the mundane – it keeps food on the table, in full- and part-time jobs, in occasional freelancing. It keeps me sane. And as my kids get older, I’m able to pass on a love of reading to them. Our oldest is an avid comic-book reader and has started writing and illustrating his own comic strip. I like to think seeing Dad writing gets him to thinking about it. I know he tries to read my novel blog posts over my shoulder and wants to read my latest book when it’s done.

It also gives my wife and I some additional common interests – we’re both writers, both going through the technical writing program at Utah State, both curious about writing theory and social networks. We’ve come closer together as a couple as we read and talk about things and write or create together. Right now I’m writing this message. She’s scrapbooking. We’re together in the same room. Once and a while we ask each other what we’re working on.

I think I’ve run out of gas. I hope this helps. Feel free to ask any more questions, or just share your thoughts.

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