No, I’m Not Going to Teach

Despite remaining firm in my decision to major in English, I still have my occasional doubts regarding its worth. I think said doubts likely stem from the infamous question, “What are you going to do after you graduate? Teach?”

The answer (at least for now) is no. I am not going to teach.

I have a feeling that this stereotype comes from the belief that English Literature is largely reflective upon the past – watching generations of students analyze old texts while attempting to discern their meaning. As a result, many believe that the only environment in which this subject flourishes is the classroom. In other words, if you are not a student or the teacher, English Literature is useless.

In reality, English is much more complex than that. It is an ongoing conversation between scholars (old and new) who seek to intertwine their voices and share knowledge through an immortal medium. So, while teaching is surely a way to go about practicing this, it is only one option on an infinite list.

My studies have not only taught me how to pull apart a text and compose an essay with a compelling argument, but how to make connections with others and their beliefs. In George Anders’ text, he sums up the beauty of a liberal arts education when he writes, “By the time you graduate, you have analyzed enough situations to make your own judgements about what’s authentic and what’s fake; what’s persuasive and what’s futile; what’s beneficial and what’s harmful… You appreciate the delicate ways trust is built (or destroyed) over long periods in high-stakes settings.” Through these few lines, Anders succinctly shares the ways English will translate professionally. I’m not sure I could have said it any better myself.

My true English journey began the second semester of my freshman year while in ENGL 3210 – British Literature to 1798. Having only just undeclared my biology major, I felt that I was in extremely unfamiliar territory. The students in this class were seemingly older, smarter, and much less stressed about tackling our assignments. So, when the time came to write our final eight-page paper (and my jaw was the only one that dropped) I immediately saw a bad grade in my future. We were tasked with taking a text we had studied – I chose the 12th century poet Marie de France’s “Bisclavret” – and exploring how the author draws on a source of history or literary tradition that then affects the way in which you interpret the piece. At this point in my life, I’d never written a true thesis, let alone a paper longer than three pages.

As you can imagine, this assignment took me forever. I visited my professor’s office hours nearly every day and learned more about 12th poetry than I’d like to admit. The Starbuck’s baristas and I were on a first name basis by the end of it all, even giving me a free drink to celebrate the A I received. That’s right. I absolutely crushed it – the second highest grade in my class (a necessary flex for non-English-major Olivia). Looking back, this assignment guided me to find a necessary comfort in establishing communication, with both my peers and my professor. Not only that, it saw me get over my fear of asking questions and develop a confidence while receiving feedback, positive and negative, that allows me to grow.

I guess you could say that Marie and I became close acquaintances because she followed me when I transferred to The College of Charleston. She found herself, once again, as the subject of my choosing for a quite daunting research paper. Not only was this assignment longer, but it required the inclusion of multiple academic sources – a rather new concept to me. No longer was it just my voice paired with that of the writer, but also the intertwinement of other scholars and academics. The directions for completing this paper were to do so in sections over the course of a few weeks. Learning to pace myself was a much harder challenge than I had anticipated as I now had excess time to edit, then re-edit, and edit again. I was sick of reading my own writing, but even more sick of reading twenty-plus page academic journals that only translating into a handful of lines of my essay. Once again however, the A grade changed my perspective. I could now operate and utilize databases while incorporating the findings of others into my own work. In breaking down the process I was also relieved to see the benefit of slow-moving progress and the importance of seemingly endless revision. I was not only fine-tuning my paper, but also my skills as an individual who can identify and accept their own mistakes – all while discovering ways to problem solve.

The last assignment I’d like to cover is my final paper for an upper-level film course I took recently. It was essentially a repeat of the project I previously mentioned, but with no set timeline for progression. I was on my own for time-management and no longer had the buffering excuse of being new to the English major. I chose to write about Steven Spielberg’s Hook (my favorite childhood film) and to argue the importance of genre-hybridity in categorizing and understanding films. While performing my research I found that no one had made a published attempt at doing the same thing, nor could I find a uniform understanding of the role that genre plays in any medium. I nearly changed my proposal before remembering that situations like this should be sought after rather than avoided. I had the freedom to craft my own research and dissect concepts that remained largely untouched. As it turns out, this was the moment I had been “training” for. The aftermath of this project saw an increase in my intellectual confidence, an embrace of the unknown, and a willingness to fail before I succeeded.

As I mentioned in a previous post, majoring in English has clearly allowed me to escape the “cognitive lockdown” I once resided in. This not only translates into the way I now approach an assignment, but similarly into the potential I see in my post-grad future. Much like my intellect is no longer contained, neither are the opportunities in which my skills will transfer professionally as an ambitious and adaptable individual.

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