Waving a white flag

I’ve been passionate about education for a long time.

My passion grew initially out of self-interest and childish anger–I was frustrated that, as a precocious little gifted kid, school was effectively a pen where I was held most of the day while I read my library books.

You see, I knew it *could* be more than that, because I was a lucky little bastard with middle class parents who were able to scrape together the money to send me to Johns Hopkins gifted kids summer camp, where I sat all day in class with other obnoxiously nerdy kids and had my mind fed to bursting by passionate expert educators.

After that experience, I fought my way to a better education for myself, but I remained so fucking angry that I could have missed out on it entirely if not for luck. Luck that my parents could pay for a camp that showed me school could be better. Luck that we happened to move to a state with an amazing public high school for gifted kids. Luck that my teachers there were incredible.

When I was in my last year in that school, I took all my anger and passion and turned it into my senior research project–a paper on the history of standardized testing in the united states. I’ve got a goddamn master’s degree, but aside from the one paper I wrote in graduate school, that high school research paper is probably the most well-researched thing I’ve ever written. In addition to reading scholarly work and news articles, I subscribed to dozens of education blogs (way back in 2006, when we were all still doing blog carnivals) and followed them long past the end of that research project.



But despite those beginnings, I didn’t think of being a K-12 teacher myself. Because I was a “smart kid”. I was going to do science research. Cure cancer. Change the world. I could teach… in college.

And so I worked my ass off to go down that road. And it went pretty well right up until my boss kicked me out of her lab because my project wasn’t going as planned.


When I left graduate school, I thought about teaching high school, but I resisted that thought. I didn’t want to go back to school and take on more debt. I didn’t want to give up on teaching at the college level. I didn’t want to be another failed scientist teaching high school.

But I also couldn’t stay away from teaching. I tried to make science writing work, for a time, but the only decent money I made was tutoring… and it was fulfilling. So I ran with it. And for awhile, I thought I was building myself a nice little career, helping to build a tutoring company, making decent money and really helping my kids.


But now that that is gone, I’m back right where I started. Despite all the self-education I’ve done, despite my science graduate degree and college teaching experience and years of tutoring… I’m still an outsider in the world of education. I can’t get work writing curriculum or educational materials because I don’t have a master’s in education or K-12 teaching experience.

The only work I can get is tutoring, which I have thoroughly mixed feelings about. To survive on tutoring income, I have to work with only the most affluent kids, and even doing that it will take a lot of time before I’ve built up the client list necessary to really support myself. I love the actual tutoring work so damn much, but I’m so tired of shitty parents and fighting to get clients. I’m so tired of being asked to prove myself as a teacher over and over to apply to tutoring agencies that will take more than half my hourly fee.


I thought my way forward was a certificate in educational therapy, because that is a way to turn tutoring-type work (one-on-one, helping students overcome individual obstacles, providing emotional support) into a career. But even that has been a battle. I had to fight my way into the certification program because I don’t have an education degree, and even once I’m certified I will be limited in where I can practice because I don’t have a damn teaching credential.


And you know what? I’m just done.


Fuck it. I may not be in a long-term job I’m happy with until I’m well into my thirties. I may never be out of debt. And I may spend a couple years in the classroom just to find out I completely suck at it.

But even if that’s the case… I’ll have a damn teaching credential, and I’ll be eligible to do the kind of work I’m trying to do now, without having to beg and plead my way in the door.


So now I’m researching my best route to a masters in teaching and/or internship-based California teaching credential. I feel like shit, because I should have done this three years ago if I was going to do it. I feel like I’ve just wasted years of my life putting this off, trying to build my own little special snowflake career. Giving that up, admitting defeat, fucking hurts.


But I’m not getting anywhere. I’m treading water… badly. I can’t do it anymore.


I surrender.

5 thoughts on “Waving a white flag

  1. I don’t have anything helpful to say–but as a 34-year-old thinking of going back to undergrad for the veterinary science program I should have stuck with as my original goal straight out of high school, I have a ton of empathy. I’ve been heartened by encouragement from people older than me who changed career paths in their 30s+, and who consistently say they’re glad they went for it, that being older than average starting out wasn’t an obstacle. I hope that turns out to be true for you and me too. Good luck to you!

    1. It’s so funny. A few years ago, I felt like changing career paths at 24 was a tragedy–especially the idea of going back to school and taking on new debt. Now, at 28, I wish my 24-year-old self hadn’t been so stubborn, but I also feel like 28 isn’t so old. It’s not the worst thing. I also have more faith in myself. Four years ago, I was feeling crushed by grad school, and like an incompetent loser. But I helped run a company for a year and a half, despite a boss who was seemingly constantly trying to make my job impossible. If I can do that, maybe I CAN be a high school teacher after all.

  2. Keely-

    The most amazing transformative power I know begins with Step One: “We admitted we were powerless over (insert any form of unsane obsession here) and our lives had become unmanageable.”

    You may be at the beginning of such transformation.

    If so, the journey won’t be easy, but there will be many amazing surprises and incredible rewards that you cannot even imagine from this beginning-point.

  3. 35 here. Switching after many years to a new field… K-12. I’m substitute teaching this year and about to commit to the ABCTE program (so thankful I am in a state where there is an alternate route that is only a few thousand dollars, rather than the expense actually going back to school would be). Either way it is hard and embarrassing to feel like I have not made any real, deep progress in a career even though I am on the verge of middle age. But, there are a lot of us out there. Best wishes to you!

    1. There ARE a lot of us out there. And there are routes in CA that don’t require full-time school… I’m trying to figure out my best path to get into the type of teaching position where I’m likely to succeed. I’ve resisted being a k-12 educator in part because the inertia of our hulking education system makes me furious–I want education to look so different than it currently does, so even walking into the current system at all feels like a defeat, in many ways. Or at least, that’s how I used to think. Now I feel like–institutional change is long and hard, and that’s not an excuse to abandon the kids in our schools NOW. They can’t wait for us to figure out a perfect model–they need great mentors to work within an imperfect system.

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