Monday, February 10, 2014

To Teach or Not to Teach?

That is the question.
"Are you going to teach?" is probably the second most asked question I get; right after "What is an MFA exactly?" (It's a Master's in Fine Arts.) Most people assume that the only thing a person can do with an English/Creative Writing degree is teach. Especially since writing is very rarely considered a realistic career choice. It's right up there with supermodel and flaming trapeze artist. However, teaching, as unappealing as it may sound, is something that should be considered for writers holding degrees. Don't get me wrong, I have mad respect for the courage and willpower of writers without degrees, but unless you want to teach at a community center this post won't really apply to you.

Why do I think teaching is a decent option for writers with degrees, you might be asking? To answer that question, let me explain my situation. I will be graduating with my M.F.A. in about 6 weeks. After that time I will have roughly 6 months before my student loans kick back in and let me tell you, I will be paying those loans back probably the rest of my life. That is, unless I can build a decent following online and get a book sold to a publisher. Which is highly unlikely in that short amount of time. So, teaching college level composition and introductory literature courses actually seems like an attractive idea at this point. I'm not exactly in to teaching at high school level for a few reasons: the licensure process, the testing requirements and the extra time commitments. But, this article can apply to those of you that would prefer teaching in middle or high school as well. So, if you are in the same boat as me, or are considering adding teaching to your repertoire of skills, let me break down the pros and cons for you. Then we can all make an informed decision together. Like friends.


1. A paycheck. We all know money is a necessity. And this was probably a pro already on your list too. It certainly is number 1 on my list because a paycheck means I can continue to work on my novels and my blog without the interruption of a regular 9-5 job. Yes, teaching is a time commitment, but it is much less strenuous due to breaks, vacations and holidays.

2. Networking opportunities. Colleges and universities have fantastic alumni networking opportunities. They may even have a few published writers on the staff as well. Take the time to get to know your colleagues and the resources available to employees, even if you are only there for a short time. You can also include your website, blog or your own work for your students to view and sample. You may build or find a new audience for your work.

3. Developing your skills. Don't be distracted by the old adage "those who cannot do, teach." Not true. You need to constantly be developing and perfecting your skills in order to teach your students as well as write. So, don't look at developing educational material as a negative. Plus you may learn something along the way that makes a breakthrough for you in your own writing.  

 4. Resume builder. If you've never been published and are looking for an agent this is something that can be added to your bio. Teaching relevant, respectable and better than the names of your dogs. So, even if you only ever teach one class it will forever be on your writing resume. Which can only help, right?

5. New experiences. If nothing else comes from your time teaching, you will have had some interesting experiences to draw from in your writing. You are bound to meet eccentric professors and hung-over football players or even an international student in America for the first time. Document things, take pictures and enjoy having new experiences.


1. Time suck. The loss of precious writing time, is the biggest con I have personally. I am an adult with a family and other responsibilities, so the loss of my writing time is a huge concern for me. Writing and publishing is a long difficult process and teaching will only complicate and stretch the time table out further. This is what keeps me awake at night, and I am a person that needs lots of sleep. Not good.

2. Not a great paycheck. It's no secret that the paychecks of adjunct professors and secondary school teachers is not anything too exciting. Adjuncts, especially, are at the bottom of the barrel getting paid per class with no benefits. So, if you don't get a class, you don't get money. There is also the consideration of daycare, transportation and supply costs. Many colleges make adjuncts foot the bill on many things tenure track professors don't. Do your research and calculations before making any final decisions. It might not make financial sense for you.

3. Not always consistent. Like I mentioned in #2, teaching isn't always a consistent form of work. It depends on your contract, university course load and student enrollment. One term you may have 15 credit hours of class, then the next term nothing. It all depends. Community college positions tend to be a little more stable than online positions or university adjuncts. But be prepared to be out of work occasionally.

4. Contracts. Contracts may not sound like a bad thing, but what if you do manage to sell your novel and the publishers wants to send you on a book tour? If you are stuck in a teaching position, you won't be able to just leave mid semester. Many schools offer 9 or 10 month contracts, just read the contract before you sign it. And ask human resources what you can do should your contract conflict with your writing career. Your writing career may depend on it.

5. Stuck with classes you are not interested in. So you need money. And the university needs a technical writing course taught. You agree. And now you are spending 20 hours a week looking up information on a boring topic that you hate. You need to get good evaluations from your students, so you wind up spending much of your free time doing research for the class instead of writing. You will probably get stuck with classes you aren't that enthusiastic about, but don't sign up willingly. Limit those to the best of your ability, otherwise you will lose precious writing time even more than usual.

So there you have it. These are the top 5 pros and cons in my personal opinion. I will probably go ahead and apply to several teaching positions and see what comes of it. I don't think this list of cons should prevent anyone from at least trying or finding out more information. Can you think of any more pros or cons that I may have missed here? I am a big advocate of doing your due diligence when it comes to career moves, so please enlightenment with your knowledge.

Have a fantabulous day!

-Jami Lynn