Grading papers at Starbucks makes the endeavor seem less daunting. I spent lots of time studying here in grad school, and I’m able to get in the “zone” more easily than when I try to work at home. The baristas are always friendly. They ask what we’re studying and how my students are.
As I was grading vocabulary quizzes and poetry projects tonight, the following conversation ensued.
Man: Are you a teacher? It looks like you’re correcting papers.
Me: Yes, I teach middle school English.
Man: My daughter just finished her second year at Duke. She’s told me she wants to be a primary school teacher. I told her that would be a waste. I want her to become a world leader, so she can effect change for thousands of children.
Me: I went to Duke Law School, but decided to teach instead of practicing law.
Man: When did you drop out?
Me: I graduated a couple years ago.
Man: And you still decided to teach middle school?
I nodded and smiled. He just shook his head and walked out, coffee in hand.
I understand where this guy is coming from. College, especially at Duke, is crazy expensive. Any economic cost-benefit analysis of the situation would likely suggest that his daughter should do something other than teach 8 year olds.
I’ll admit this is a bit of a tender spot for me. I struggled mightily with the question of vocation during my three years of law school. The opportunity to attend Duke Law School was a rare and expensive one. Numerous people reminded me (rightly so) that the legal system needs lawyers dedicated to the pursuit of justice, especially for those dis-empowered and forgotten by the system. I found the law interesting, and I wanted to want to be a lawyer.
But I didn’t. I interned at the Children’s Education Law Clinic and all I could think about was being a teacher. I skipped studying so I could work as an America Reads tutor at a local elementary school. When, after endless over-analyzing and weepy conversations, I finally graduated, I took a semester-long job teaching 5th grade American History. It was love.
Last week in class we were discussing Red Scarf Girl and whether workers should receive the same compensation for all jobs. Many students were arguing that money was the only reason people chose to do hard jobs. I told students that most of my friends from law school are currently making $100,000-$120,000 more than me. They were flabbergasted (our word of the week). Someone asked me what I’d do if money was no option. I told them (without any hesitation) I’d be a teacher, although maybe only for half a day so I could farm, too.
It hasn’t been an especially good week. Despite that, I can’t think of any other job I’d rather have. Occasionally when I’m standing in front of class, I’ll think this is exactly what I have always wanted to do. There are frustrations, but the name posted outside the door says Ms. Stewart and that makes me smile.
This post leaves lots of unaddressed questions- Is it better to be a world leader or a teacher? Should teachers be paid as much as lawyers? Why do so many students’ perceptions of the worth of jobs focus on money? Will I ever practice law? Will my student loans ever be paid back? :)- but they’ll wait until another day.
I hope that Duke undergrad does become a teacher or finds something that she loves regardless of whether its pay is commiserate to her college tuition. And I hope her dad understands.