Tuesday, March 1, 2011
interruptions :: major change
As I prepare for graduate school and try to decide exactly what I want to study--or rather, what I should study, since I know what I want to study--I have been reflecting a lot on how I wound up with my major, and how I realized that I want to study literature and composition even more than I have so far. So, if you will oblige me and not get too terribly bored, I'm going to share a bit about how I changed my major twice and still graduated early without knowing exactly what I will do next.
At eighteen, I loved kids. I worked as a nanny, babysat every weekend, and was a teacher's aid in a first grade classroom (the advantage of attending a k-12 school). I entered college as an elementary education major.
First wake up: I would take one, yes, ONLY one English class in my entire college career. Anyone who knows me knows that was not going to happen.
Second wake up: I was going to have to teach math and science. Science was okay, but you would not want me teaching your child math.
Third wake up: You can't teach a six year old about the irony at play in Oedipus Rex. You can't even imagine teaching a six year old such a story--not if the eighteen to twenty somethings in your college literature course couldn't handle it maturely.
So I changed my mind, and I became an English Education major. This would let me study the books I so love, learn more about theory, and allow me to gain certification and get a job after graduating. Did I mention that the college I attended at the time has a ninety-seven percent hire rate for their education grads? I was being practical. I also still thought I wanted to teach in public schools.
Fourth wake up: I was going to have to teach high schoolers. Now, I did not like high schoolers all that much when I was one, and that has not really changed. Some of you guys are cool, sure, and individual students are fine, but high schoolers in groups? Put simply, I'm not tough enough for that.
Fifth wake up: At that point, I had been in private schools for ten years, and had little concept of the greater world. It's not actually as different as one might think, which I've learned from my time at a big state university, but it is different. For one thing, there are way more factors at work at any given time governing what is being taught. For another, although there may be more apparent freedom in the public primary and secondary school--no uniforms, swearing is allowed, etc.--overall freedom is actually restricted by a billion little rules (thank you, federal government), and I was not ready to deal with that.
Sixth wake up: education classes. They did not interest me. They drove me nuts.
So I changed my major again, this time to just English. Then I transferred schools to be at home after an extended illness. I ran out of time to add a minor and still have the opportunity to graduate early (I somewhat regret that I didn't do a minor but am very glad I graduated early and married C.). So I graduated in December with a Bachelor of Arts in English.
I was so much happier with school once I dedicated my time to studying words. I can sit with you and talk about three different interpretations of one scene in Hamlet. I can tell you an unfortunate amount about Freud, since that's about all I ever learned in my literary theory class (thank goodness I can take a different theory class in the graduate degree). I learned history I never could have otherwise known. I took a few linguistics courses and can write sounds with the IPA without referencing my textbook. I know how to craft a solid thesis (even if I never manage to do it in my first draft), use academic language appropriately (thanks to ENGL 310), and think about any situation from multiple points of view (something that would be good to practice in my everyday life).
I gained a lot of knowledge from my major, and I don't regret it at all. Figuring out how to use that knowledge is where it gets interesting, because the sorts of academic jobs I would love to have are few and highly competitive, and many of the other sorts of jobs I would like (in writing and editing) seem to be dwindling these days. While I was in school, and anytime I tell people what I majored in, I got asked the same question: do you want to teach?
That's a question I'll answer tomorrow.
*edit: Can I clarify that, in spite of all the other things I've read in my life, Oedipus Rex is among my least favorite works of all time? It is. I am not one of those sorts of people who unabashedly declares anything old to be terrifically and indisputably amazing. I'm more than ready to be critical and look at OLD-old works and say "why are we still reading this?"