I dream of the day when I can comfortably retire from education without needing the income. That’s the most lurid fantasy I have, and I imagine it almost daily. As I look at this mountain of grading before me, I envision the day when I’m sitting in HR and filling out the paperwork. In the wildest version of this fantasy, it happens soon because of a huge royalty check or grotesque advance for movie rights, and I courageously choose to walk away from teaching to throw myself into writing and promoting full-time. Some days, I can smell the freedom.
In reality, I recognize that I’m stuck at this for a little while longer. My child support isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and while Seventh Star is doing an excellent job with the series so far, it’s improbable to expect a six figure royalty check any time soon. Realistically, that’s what I would need to feel safe leaving behind the income and benefits. Not that I earn six figures now, but by my estimation, a royalty check like that would give me a 2-3 year cushion to live on. Since that’s unlikely to occur in the next couple of years, I comfort myself with the fantasy.
I hate feeling this way about the job because there was a time when I truly loved teaching, but the system is geared to use us up and burn us out well before our prime. The course load and student ratio are set too high for composition teachers, so the constant grind of grading is nearly unbearable. Then, to compound the issue, from All Children Left Behind and the Race to a Stop, the students get less and less capable each semester, which means we have to work harder just to cover the basics. When we grumble among ourselves, most of us express at least some desire to escape the profession. Some are hanging on to reach the last level of vesting, others for another opportunity to open up, and some like me for their other career to become self-sustaining. I know very few teachers today who openly claim to be in it for the long-term.
The sad part is, the ones who are the most burned out are the most capable teachers because it’s doing the job properly that causes the over-exertion. The crappy teachers who don’t follow due diligence with their lectures and grading never feel the burn because they aren’t putting forth the same level of effort. They just coast along, doing just enough to fly under the radar but not really providing the students with a quality education. Even last semester, when I was so sick I could barely walk from my office to the classroom, I still delivered dozens of pages of notes and drilled my students on the fundamentals of good writing because I believe in the importance of writing, not just for the individual students, but for our society as a whole.
Despite this level of dedication on my part, I promise that if I received a six figure royalty or advance tomorrow, the college would be running an ad for my position this summer. I would finish out my contract, but that would be all, and I would only finish it because of the respect I have for my dean and colleagues. That’s why I’ve purposefully stayed on a year-to-year basis, so that I can walk away on relatively short notice without burning a bridge. But until the day arrives when I can leave, I’ll have to sate myself with the fantasy. As for now, it’s time to get back to grading.