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Teach: Tony Danza: A Story of Nope

Last week, I didn’t really have the time to ramble about how great it feels to have someone pursuing me for an opportunity, instead of scratching and clawing my way into opportunities the way I usually have to. Here’s the short version: after unsuccessfully applying to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA creative writing program, I found myself being pursued quite intently by the MA teaching program. I have no teaching experience whatsoever, but I have made it clear that I’d like to move in a teaching direction because, frankly, I feel good helping people who strive for improvement. I don’t feel good begging stupid people to make smart decisions for the first and only time in their lives. And yes, former movie-industry employers, I am calling you all stupid. And boy do I ever mean it.

At any rate, here’s the functional difference between the MFA creative writing program and the MA teaching program: SAIC never got my transcript from Columbia. Why? Because, evidently, Columbia College Chicago still has the world’s worst administrative staff. (That’s right, I’m calling everyone out today.) Nobody contacted me from the creative writing program regarding this fairly serious issue. I received a rejection notice in early March, and that was that. Per usual, nobody gave any hint as to why I was rejected. It may have nothing to do with my transcript; they may not have pursued the transcript issue because they already knew I wasn’t desirable for their program.

On the other hand, the teaching program contacted me near the application deadline and announced that they’d never received my transcript. I badgered Columbia into actually sending it instead of just sending me a receipt that they’d charged my credit card for something they didn’t actually do. When they received the transcript, they called to schedule an interview with the program director.

The interview occurred on Friday, and let’s face it: I haven’t had a job interview in awhile, and a grad school entrance interview is not dissimilar. I answered the questions as honestly as I could, but after the initial barrage of questions, the program director outlined the coursework, which involves a great deal of full-time K-12 student teaching. I was told specifically that I would not be able to maintain a full-time job and should appeal my FAFSA award (I didn’t even know I could do that!) so that they’d base it on the $0 I’d make during the program instead of the shiny fifty-cent piece I earned last year as a full-time worker. I was also told I’d need an additional 21 credit hours of studio art courses to qualify for their program; luckily, if you can call it that, I’d be able to make up the courses concurrently at a community college.

All of this made me uneasy. Perhaps it’s not the wisest plan to describe all this on a blog with my name on it when decisions have not been made regarding my acceptance into the program, but I’m not entirely sure it matters. First, I knew this was a K-12 program, and although my ultimate goal is to teach at the college/university level, I figured doing a K-12 program might open me up to more opportunities, even though I’m not convinced I can handle that age group. This may not be my greatest quality, but I have a slight intolerance toward people who have zero interest in learning. What do I remember from my education? All those kids with zero interest in learning fucking it up for the rest of us. Until high school, art courses weren’t electives; in high school, while they were electives, we had a mandatory fine arts requirement that stuck a lot of disinterested kids into “easy A” art courses, and they rebelled when the A wasn’t as easy as they thought. I don’t like any of that.

Then there’s the job component. I want to take on as little debt as possible. I want to take a night-school program that would allow me to keep my crappy job so I don’t have to live off the fat of student loans. If I’m expected to student-teach at a public school, there is literally no way I can keep my job. At best, I can go back to slinging coffee nights and weekends. Except I can’t really, because I’ll have to spend my nights and weekends at community college, making up for lost time, because this is a generalized arts teaching program. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush, hunk of clay, or sketchpad since junior high. So, on the one hand, I’ll pick up some more skills and maybe meet some people; on the other, do I really want to spend the time and money trying to cram what basically amounts to another four-year degree into two years?

I’ve been accepted into a part-time MFA creative writing program that has numerous advantages over the teaching program. The primary disadvantage is that it won’t help me actually teach. I don’t know anything about making lesson plans or negotiating the weird politics of public education. I don’t know if I’ll be able to work in a “teach to the test” environment. Maybe art teachers are off the hook there, since I’m pretty sure there aren’t any standardized art tests. But I dunno… It’s a brave new world, and all I’ve ever heard about teaching is, “You want to teach college? Get a masters.” The subject didn’t seem to matter.

A few years ago, I planned to go to law school, until I realized I had no way to pay for it and that the legal job market was so oversaturated, I’d find myself struggling to pay off all that debt working as a paralegal or some other lateral job for which I was overqualified, hoping some associate would flip out and slit his or her wrists so I could slide into the job. If I didn’t go to school to learn something I’m really interested in because I couldn’t justify the debt and the time requirements, it seems absurd to do it when the subject is not necessarily a passion. I mean, for the record, I’m not passionate about teaching. I like helping people, and I’m good at it. I’m passionate about writing, and I hope those three qualities will make me a good enough teacher. I know there’s a lot to learn, but I’m not salivating for that particular knowledge. It’s like medicine, not candy.

Ultimately, the creative writing MFA feels like the better decision, even if I might get more out of the teaching program. The creative writing MFA matches the practicalities of my vision of grad school. While much less practical, the teaching MA will almost certainly be more rewarding (if only in a spiritual sense). I’m all for taking risks when the risks make sense; in this case, the reward for this risk seem negligible at best. Which, I guess, means I’ve made my decision.

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