Last week, when the snowstorm forced school closings for two days and I was allowed two whole days of freedom to write, I thought to myself, Ah! So this is what it could be like ALL THE TIME if I had chosen to go to grad school full-time instead of keeping my teaching job and attending classes at night! I spent those two glorious days sleeping until noon and alternating the rest of the day between writing and watching Maury Povich. Being programmed genetically to sleep that late every day (ask my mom or siblings; they’re the same way), I have never quite gotten used to that alarm going off at 6:00 every morning, and I thought to myself, I could be living on loans now, spending all of my time writing, and I could finish this thesis manuscript in a couple months, no problem!
But then I remembered: if I didn’t work full-time, I wouldn’t get paid full-time. I wouldn’t have a pension, a retirement plan, or insurance. And I certainly wouldn’t have the endless supply of writing material that comes from teaching high school.
But I’ll be honest: there are plenty of drawbacks to choosing to work full time while doing an MFA, and I think it’s important to know about them if you’re trying to make a decision on the matter. First, there’s the obvious: time. Writing requires a great deal of it. The better you get at it, the more time you need. And the more you work, the less time you have. Also, you can’t take any day-time classes, which narrows your choices of teachers and courses. You can’t go to most night-time events, either, because as we all know, writers like to drink, and most such events are held at bars, and I can’t afford to go to work hungover (because as we also know, writers aren’t known for their self-control, either). Being part-time, I feel like I’m part of the community but separate, too, because I’m not down at school as often. I don’t know people unless they’re in classes with me. And then of course, there’s the annoyance of having to listen to the people in your program (who work ten hours a week or less) complain about how busy they are and how much they have to get done when you’re thinking of the stack of 80 Great Gatsby essays you have to grade and silently cursing them and their leisure time.
But then, this past weekend, one of my students invited me to his hockey game for teacher appreciation night. Each player honored a teacher, and we got to go out on the ice to take a picture with our students, while the parents provided us an enormous dessert table and the crowd gave us an ovation (and our team won!). It was so moving to me, the simple act of being asked to attend this event, that I remembered then why I teach. It’s part of who I am, and it finds its way into my writing over and over again. I think I’m a better writer because of the work I do. Perhaps one day, if I write that blockbuster novel, I’ll be able to afford to switch roles: write full- time and teach part-time. But for now, I’m happy with my situation. You have to experience life in order to be able to write about it.
Any thoughts about working full-time while in grad school?