Last semester, one of my graduate students “admitted” — not that this is anything criminal, that she recently googled “What can I do with a teaching degree besides teach?” It’s a perfectly understandable question. Our jobs as teachers, despite the opinions of an ignorant and misinformed minority, are exceptionally difficult. I have trouble raising two kids in my household; how I manage to do it for another 219 at my “job” is a mystery.
However I put “job” in quotation marks because it has never felt like one, not really. Of course, there are trying moments, trying days, and trying people, but by and large my career is something I’m not only exceedingly proud of, but also something that brings me great joy and makes me feel extremely useful. As I often say to my graduate students — brilliant fellow teachers who are pursuing master’s degrees in education, “The moment that we all stop doing our jobs, the entire * world will fall off its axis and shatter irreparably into thousands of pieces.” And I’m convinced that I’m right about that. Whether people realize it or not, we all reap the benefits of living in a literate, educated society, and in spite of all of its faults, the educational system is the foundation of that society. Remove education, and the world will descend into madness faster than you can google “What can I do with a teaching degree besides teach?”
But my graduate student — who incidentally is one of the best damn teachers I know, is not the only one with this quandary on her mind of late. Now in my mid-to-late thirties with a family to care for, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore my options. I am about to add to my wine-focused media holdings a web page that looks promising as a potential moneymaker, but will require time, and I’m in the process of discussing becoming a partner in an alcohol distributorship. In addition, I’m in talks about launching two different wine labels in the coming years. All of these have the potential to provide financial stability for our family and our future, but all of this takes time and energy, and of course a day job really cuts into the amount of time and energy one has to take on further projects.
With what seem like so many viable options, I’ve genuinely considered leaving the profession I’m in, at least temporarily. And yet my identity is as a teacher. It’s who I am in my heart and in my soul. I can’t stop teaching, or… or what, exactly? I don’t know — I don’t really want to find out. Being a teacher is so much akin to my bearded face and tattoos. I shaved my face with a razor once, about a year ago. I felt naked. People looked at me puzzled, as if they could tell something was wrong, but were unsure of what. My own wife noticed only after a few moments, but then her eyes popped out of her head; something was absolutely and unmistakably amiss. I wasn’t quite me anymore. And all that over some superfluous stubble. What happens if I change careers? I fear almost nothing in this world, yet I’m terrified by the thought of waking up one day near the end of my life and wishing I’d done things differently. For this reason, and as a reminder to myself, fatherhood and being a husband must always, always, always come first. But what is to come second?
With all this on my mind and my wife and children slumbering throughout the house, I poured myself a glass of wine and sat down to have a think. “OR” — how fitting, a liquid tribute to my indecisiveness. Dave Phinney’s wines are always among my favorites, and the Locations series even more so for its exceedingly accessible price point. The 5th generation of OR, a Pinot Noir sourced from Oregon fruit, is cool wine. Smoky notes abound at the beginning, yet mellow out and dissipate into something more like dark chocolate with some air, resting atop a bed of dark red and black cherries. An aromatic nose, beautiful ruby hue, and lingering dry finish represent the start-to-end work of it all, while Phinney’s characteristic hyperbole appears in the pronounced red fruit notes that pop mid palate, and the ultra-fine tannins that cling to your teeth long after the rest of the wine has found its way into your guts. It may lack subtlety, but it’s a very enjoyable wine, and good luck finding a better Oregon Pinot in the under $20 category.
Like a Shakespearean play, there’s no bow to put on this reflection presently, no clean “happily ever after” to make me feel good as I finish my wine and head off for bed. Rather, there’s only uncertainty, and the ethereal wonder that circles it like an unseen vulture. This series of choices are what make up a lifetime, I know that. But my two tiny children remind me that the choices I make are not merely my own, and the wonderful people I work with daily make me feel almost as if anything short of spending my lifetime with them would be a mistake. And yet, the road less traveled by has been guaranteed to make all the difference. I’m not likely to get any sleep tonight. I can almost hear those witches cackling: “Mark shall sleep no more.”
Cheers to the nights when wonder keeps us wide awake,
* I sometimes add “f@cking” here, depending on my mood that day.