*And, introducing a new book written by a friend: Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle by Jennifer Chambers*
As of yesterday, I officially have a part-time job working for an after-school program! This will be part-time job number three for me, and it will mark the seventh part-time job I’ve held in under a year! (Exciting for me, although my resume doesn’t care for this new lifestyle.)
When the woman called to inform me that I was being offered the position, she sounded apologetic. “Um…it’s only eleven dollars an hour,” she said hesitantly, as if afraid I was going to bite her through the phone.
“I know,” I said cheerfully. “That’s what I was expecting.”
“And, you know, it’s only seven hours a week.” Again, she sounded morose. “But we could tell the parents you can do math tutoring, too, if you want more hours,” she added quickly.
“Seven hours is great,” I said. “This is exactly what I was looking for.”
I knew she thought I was crazy. I’m over-qualified for the position, and the money I’ll be making will barely cover the weekly guitar lessons I just signed up for.
But for me, this job is perfect. I currently spend all day on the computer: Skype-tutoring with Ukrainians and making worksheets about slope-intercept form (these are my other part-time jobs), as well as working on my novel, reading online magazines, and writing blog entries. All I wanted was something that would give me a reason to get out of my pajamas and leave the house for a few hours a day. And the added bonus is that I get to work with kids.
I was a teacher for many years, and I miss working with kids. Often people (like my grandma), wonder why I’m not still teaching. “You were so good at it,” they say. “At least you can always go back if the writing doesn’t work out.” And for awhile, I thought I would go back after my “year off” to work on writing was over. But now, I’m not so sure.
I’ve recently made some startling discoveries about myself, and I feel like an idiot for not realizing them sooner. Startling discovery number one is that I’m an introvert. For a long time I had convinced myself that I was an extrovert because I was always doing extroverted things like going to parties and planning social activities. Whenever I expressed to friends that I thought I might actually be introverted, they would laugh in my face and tell me I was being absurd. But the fact is, extroverts gain energy from being around people while introverts expend energy, and I definitely feel drained after being social.
Which leads me to startling discovery number two: introversion is the reason I shouldn’t be a teacher. I kept feeling bad about my intense desire not to go back to teaching after my year off. Did it mean I secretly hated kids? Did it mean I couldn’t handle the insane organizational challenge that is class-room teaching? No, that’s not it at all.
Back when I was teaching full time, I was always so freaking tired. Oh sure, part of it was the waking up at five-thirty, and part of if was the working long hours, but I think a lot of it was the fact that I was around people all day long, and for an introvert like myself, that was extremely draining.
I used to look forward to my planning periods, when I could sit at my computer in silence and create math worksheets. (Hey, exactly what I do now!) I would get annoyed when a teacher waltzed into my room and wanted to chat for twenty minutes, eating up my precious alone time for no good reason. When I rode the Metro home after work, and one of the teachers from my school got on at the same time as me, my heart would sink. He or she would plop down next to me on the plastic orange seat, and then I’d have to chat for the whole Metro ride, when what I really wanted to do was read a book. Sometimes I would walk to the station really slowly in order to miss the train and not have to sit next to a colleague. I felt like such a bitch, but the quiet time was worth it.
When I got to my apartment, I would be excited if my roommate wasn’t home yet. I always felt guilty about that, too. I liked Kristin. She was my friend. Why was I rejoicing over her absence? I realize now it was because I’m an introvert, and after an entire day of interacting with people, I needed to recharge by being alone.
I recently learned that one of the science teachers from my old school, the fabulous Jennifer Chambers, has published a children’s book! It’s called Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle, and it tells the story of a plastic water bottle’s journey through the Chesapeake Bay watershed to the Atlantic Ocean. Chambers says the book helps teach children “how litter and other pollutants impact the health of animals that make their home in streams, rivers and oceans,” and all the proceeds from the book are being donated to the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics program.
One of the coolest things about this book is that the illustrations were created by one of my old students, Jesse Auth. I taught Jesse for two years, and he was in my advisory group, which means we spent a lot of time together. He was a thoughtful, day-dreamy kid, and I remember one day in my classroom, when he was supposed to be doing research for his Senior project, he turned to me and said, “Ms. Langston… Do you think I should be a scientist, or an artist?”
Boy, what a question to ask the fiction writer who was working as a math teacher!
I don’t remember exactly what I told him. We probably brainstormed the pros and cons of each. It’s really hard to make money as an artist, I probably said, but you should do what you truly love. Maybe you can do both, I might have told him. What I didn’t ask him, and should have, was, what gives you energy? How can you make your own rules and find ways to combine the things you love? Come to think of it, by doing the illustrations for Watershed Adventures, Jesse was able to combine his love of science and art.
I know that my current career path doesn’t make sense to a lot of people — picking and choosing part-time jobs so I can work on a novel. After all, I may never make much money or have much outward success from writing. I might not even be that good at it. It would make more sense for me to go back to teaching. But just because something is practical, just because I’m good at it, doesn’t mean I should do it. Now, after a day of writing, I’m not drained of energy. Writing, and even creating math curriculum, continuously refuels me so that when my boyfriend comes home at the end of the day, I’m excited to see him instead of wishing he’d leave me alone.
I’ve been thinking, though, about the reason why it was so hard for me to decide whether or not I’m an introvert. The reason is that, in small doses, I am energized from being around people. Most people, anyway, and kids especially. I miss my talks with Jesse and the other teenagers at my DC-area school. I miss the middle school students from my old New Orleans school who used to sing about narwhals and draw pictures of giant pieces of farting cheese.
For me, being around people is like drinking tequila: one or two shots gets me out on the dance floor, but more than that, and I’m ready for bed. Now I’ll get a guaranteed seven hours of social time a week. It may not seem like much, but it’s just enough to give me a buzz.
After reading her blog, I realize that Chambers, author of Watershed Adventures, and I have some similarities. Just like me, she has several part-time jobs that combine her interests and talents. She teaches, runs her own business (called Hiking Along), and now writes children’s books.
I guess that’s the thing about choosing a career. Usually, there isn’t one that fits just right. You might need to mix-and-match.