Before coming to U-M to join the exceptional Joint Program in English and Education, I applied to multiple schools for multiple years. After receiving a poetry degree and moving to NYC for a briefly nascent career in publishing, I moved back to Indiana where I began teaching composition courses at the ripe age of 24. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was sure I wanted to do it.
My mom had been an English teacher for nearly four decades, and though I never tried to follow in her footsteps exactly, I think I was finally starting to see the allure and honor in all of those stacks of papers to be graded, and all of those post-high school encounters of ex-students we'd see in grocery stores. As a teen I'd occupy myself by fingering odd boxes of cereal or baked goods while my mom caught up with students she had taught twenty years prior. Everyone was so happy, so appreciative. I'm not saying that's the reason I wanted to be a teacher, but in hindsight it's as good a memory as any.
So at 24 I began teaching at Notre Dame, and by 26 I was sure that the only way to keep doing it was to get a PhD. So I applied to about three graduate schools, and was rejected in short order by all three. Demoralized but not deterred, I moved to California and began teaching at Stanford. It appeared I was moving up in the world. That is, until I was only rewarded contracts on a semester-by-semester basis. At that point, I threw my hat back in the ring and applied to more PhD schools, maybe 10 or 12. One by one the small, thin white envelopes arrived, each embossed with their schools shiny classic seals, mocking that I'd never be one of their elite members.
Though that last year at Stanford was a blur, I came back and tried it all again. The teaching. The false hope of a career blossoming. I shed preconceptions, fears, and a few girlfriends. For various reasons I applied again. Three years in a row of applying to nearly the same schools (I've later been told that that's a no-no.) But this year was different. I was accepted into nearly every school I applied to even though I hadn't added much to my CV and by now these programs knew me on a first-name basis from all the rejections they had sent.
So what was different?
Honestly, I still don't know. However, there is one change I made that was half-inspired and half-stupid, which I've come to realize isn't a bad ratio at all. In my personal statements I began describing all of my trips to the bar, where I'd sit with old friends and talk about education. For whatever reason a lot of my friends had become teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools all around Michigan. So we'd sit at the bar, and after talking about how bad the Detroit Tigers were doing that year, we'd talk about what was wrong with education and public school in general. However, for me, these weren't typical complain-about-your-job-becuase-that's-what-you-do conversations. They were provocations. They were salient starting points for the work that I had been training myself to do. They were reasons to go back.
So on my first HASTAC blog entry, I'm writing to announce that I'm going camping this weekend with some friends from Chicago. One spent two years at a horrible elementary school in the Bronx as part of Teach For America. The other, his wife, volunteered at a south side Chicago school until she couldn't take it anymore. Around a campfire, and perhaps with a few drinks in hand, we'll discuss what went wrong, issues like charter schools or the new movie "Waiting for Superman," and perhaps--just perhaps--come away with some ideas.
Should I be talking about this here? I dunno. But it worked for my personal statements, and I'm realizing as I begin my own research for my dissertation, that everything I do is a personal statement in defense of (public) education, whether it's at a conference or a campfire, or a blog or a bar.