The Fall-Back Career

Over the weekend, I was afforded the opportunity to discuss education initiatives with other educators.

Okay, I was really just talking to my friends who are also teachers, but I liked the way the first sentence made it sound like I did something important.

Anyway, as we always do, we got on the topic of education initiatives, namely that of basing teacher salary on teacher success rates. My friend made a very good point when she stated that most teachers go into teaching because they want to make a difference. Given that, it should be obvious that teachers are trying to improve test scores. What apparently escapes lawmakers’ minds is that teachers aren’t actually taking the tests for the students. We can only do so much before the students must be held accountable for their own success (gasp! What a novel concept!). I immediately agreed with her because I share a very similar sentiment.

Then I kept thinking about it. I think it’s easy for my friends and me to say that people become teachers to make a difference and because they love academia because we are those people. I can think of a number of teachers I know who are in it because it’s “easy.” Of course it’s easy when you’re not really doing your job the way you should be, when you’re showing up late and leaving as soon as the last bell rings, never taking anything home with you. They’re in it to get a check and that’s it. They’ve fallen back on teaching. In this economy, there are teachers who would love to have those jobs (like me). Lawmakers are willing to get rid of teachers who honestly try but just can’t get through to every single student, but they’re not willing to get rid of the space-wasting fall-backs in order to make room for genuinely passionate educators?

Tonight I was on my ever-present job hunt, and as I came to the close of hour number four, I started to feel a little loopy. I went to Google and typed “I have an M.A. in English. What can I do with it?” I didn’t expect serious answers (though I would have welcomed them). I started weeding through some of the articles the search returned, more out of procrastination than anything else.

I found it more than just a little appalling that article after article said “Get your teaching certification. It’s easy, and you’ll have no problem finding a job if you have to fall back on it.” There was no date to tell me when this was written, but the fact that it said I’d have no problem finding a job was the least of my worries. “Fall back?” I think something just occurred to me. I know this has been a broken record of poorly-constructed babble, but stick with me.

Every year for the past five years, I’ve been watching students get lazier and lazier. Students who were seniors in high school my first year of teaching are now teachers, themselves. I’m not going to pretend that getting my teaching certification was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. For me, I did well on my natural ability and passed all my Praxis exams with flying colors on the first try. But I knew people who struggled with it. The actual job itself is infinitely more difficult and bureaucracy keeps making it evermore so. This leads me to believe that lazy students get to college, coast through a major on good luck and charm, obtain a teaching certification to fall back on (an idea they got from the Internet because everyone knows the current generation lives by the Word of Google. My own brother has “Googlism” listed as his religion on Facebook). They want jobs where they’ll make a lot of money, but they have to make a pit-stop. That pit-stop is teaching. Their fall-back career is my chosen career, and they’re hogging up my job opportunities.

Paranoid? Probably a little, but not entirely so. McDonald’s is a fall-back career. When I’ve worked my entire life to become something, nothing infuriates me more than people writing it off like it’s not important, like everyone can do it. Have you ever heard someone say “I didn’t really care. I went to the interview, and then they offered me the job”? I have. Plenty of times. I suddenly feel like I care too much and the people who are squatting on my chosen path are the ones who are getting all the jobs that I want. I don’t understand how people can work without a passion for what they’re doing, but if you’re falling back, isn’t that exactly what’s happening? You’re grinning and bearing it until you get to move on to what you really want to do.

I can’t say that’s exactly how it happens, but it makes sense in my mind (which is currently cluttered with bitter cynicism, optimistic pessimism, and feeling jaded in a profound way, however all of that works). Maybe I’m just looking to justify the fact that so many people who have some idealism left in them want to make a difference (or better yet, so many people who are realists about education and still want to make a difference) don’t have jobs while “teachers” who fell back do.

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