Changing Course in Life

I haven’t been around as much the past little while because I’ve been on the job market, moving, and preparing for a new job. No, I haven’t finished my dissertation. I’m currently rethinking my life plans, and I have found a job as a secondary school English teacher, which I will start in a couple weeks (which means I probably continue to be scarce for the next month or two as I adjust to the new job).

It’s all kind of strange because I’ve wanted to be an English professor since high school. But the past year or so, that dream has been slowly fading, though I didn’t recognize it until I had a sudden moment of realization a couple months ago. I expected that leaving behind what I’ve been planning for so many years would bring more sadness. There have been a few moments the past month (as I’ve had conversations with my friends engaged in intense research or dissertation writing or who are preparing to go on the academic job market) when I’ve remembered why I chose academia as a path in the first place and what I am potentially giving up (I haven’t permanently left my graduate program, but if I love teaching high school as much as I expect to, I won’t pursue college teaching). And there has been a twinge of sadness in these moments. But then I think about how excited I am to go and teach these high school students at a school that I am really excited to teach at, and it all fades into the background. Of course, this might change once I actually start teaching, but right now, I’m thinking there’s a good chance this will be my permanent career, and that makes me happy.

So, anyway, I guess I’m interested in hearing from others who have made major course changes in their lives. I think it happens to most people at some point. If you’ve changed your life plan, what prompted it? How have things worked out for you? Are you happier? Was God involved?

As for me, I do think God was involved. He didn’t hit me over the head like He often does (I typically need to be hit over the head in order to change my mind about big decisions in my life). Instead, I was slowly and subtly guided into a position where everything just fell into place. I believe God is watching over me, and that is a comfort.


  1. Congrats, Seraphine! It sounds like you’re going down a path that will work for you.

    I changed school plans four times while in school. And careers once after that. There was never a hit-by-lightning moment. But some of the decisions seemed right. And still do.

    Hopefully your change will be like that, too.

  2. Good luck with your new position–the first year of teaching can be very intense, overwhelming, and consuming. You certainly have enthusiasm on your side and I hope your new school hooks you up with a mentor, too.

    I had my eye on a certain grad program for a long long time and I got into it but when it finally came time to do it (after years abroad) it just wasn’t the right time and place for my family. It was not nearly as disappointing as I expected to turn aside from that path .

    Sometimes I still think about going back and doing that program and then I remember that in the mean time I have gotten the same degree elsewhere as I went part time and had some kids. Maybe if I ever end up in NYC (where my dream program is) I’ll think of some other degree to get there.

    I don’t know where you are in your program (emotionally and physically) but might I suggest that you keep your doors open as being a student always makes you a better teacher and having a degree means better pay, even in secondary school.

    Have a great year!

  3. When I joined the Church I went from not wanting children to wanting children, from not being all that interested in Family to very interested in my Family. (I mean I didn’t even know my Cousins names before…) I went from wanting to be a self-absorbed digital artist to doing whatever work I could get to feed my Family, to getting my MBA and grinding out a 8-5 job so I can rush home to see my two girls. I went from smoking and drinking and cussing and watching bad stuff to church going, and being scolded by my 4 year old for saying “stupid” too often. In a nutshell I went from self-destruction to self-construction, and all by giving myself to something greater than myself.

    The two moments that did it all were when I prayed and then decided to join the Church and then when I prayed and then decided to go on a mission. (Because if I hadn’t gone on a mission, I would have pursued my masters in Computer Animation.)

  4. S:


    I picked teaching years ago and haven’t looked back. Teaching English makes me deliriously happy. But (and it’s not a negative “but”) few things are more consuming than that first year. If you ever want to jam about curriculum, parents, grading, paperwork, books, etc. please e-mail me. Are you in public or private school?

  5. I changed majors by need rather than choice. I was a little weary of switching to Communication as my sister majored in Journalism and I did not want to take away from her identity there. I like my sister a lot and we are good friends. I kept my major very general taking classes from journalism, Organizational Communication, and Theory classes etc. I ended up really enjoying. Career? Well, I have never had one of those. I have only had jobs that do not reqire a degree. Well, maybe my comments are not so relevant as I lack a career, but I wanted to show how changing course can be good. In fact, my favorite class in psychology of language was the second to last class I took and another favorite class on language and thought was my last class. As my major only required so many upper division classes and under division classes in Communication without specific classes, I probably would not have taken these classes if I did not take so long to finish school by going part-time so much towards the end. And I don’t think those classes were offered all semesters. It is not like they have changed my career path but they do influence what I like to study at times.

    I remember my high school advisor Senior year saying how those who are more into research are more inclined as professors and those who are more social are more inclined towards teaching high school. It sounds good to me.

    I know that I really gained so much from my Novel teacher my Senior year of high school. I learned so much history and culture as well as the themes in the subject and symbolism from her. Plus, she was so nice and was compulsive about always starting the class with either “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” depending on what time of day the class was held. I remember her discussing the major themes of litearture that people were supposed to know like the back of their hands and feeling that I may have cheated myself by not taking American Literature and British literature earlier. I wanted to add that a reason for my avoiding those classes by taking other English courses in short story or Business Communication was the fear of the thick tests, the fear of red pens and the papers required MLA style that I had to write in other classes, but feared to be worse there. In addition, I had the impression that they gave a lot of pop tests and I don’t do well on those even if I have prepared.

    Well, I think what you are going to do is great. Good luck to you!

  6. oh, it was thick texts that I feared as those books looked so intimidating. Ironically, I may have read more in Novel. Did I mention that I loved Novel? Well, I did.

  7. Kaimi, it sounds like you’ve altered course quite a few times. While I’ve had life changes in other areas of my life, this is the first course change I’ve ever had in the school/career realm, and it’s a bit scary (though exciting). I’ve been working towards being an English professor for 11 years now, and though I haven’t changed fields, it’s the first change I’ve ever made in this area of my life. But for right now, it does feel right.

    a spectator, I’ve been teaching college undergrads for the past six years, so I think that will help (I do have some basic teaching skills under my belt), but I fully expect to be overwhelmed. And right now I’m not closing any doors in terms of my program. I’m A.B.D., and I’d like to finish my dissertation and get my Ph.D., but right now I’m not in a place where I can do it. But I’ve left it open as an option for the future (I’m currently taking a leave of absence).

  8. Deborah, I’ve already been warned about how crazy this year is going to be. And I’d love to talk sometime! I’ll drop you an e-mail soon. And I’m teaching at a private school–I don’t have teaching certification since I’ve been doing the English grad school thing.

    a spectator, I meant to add that the English dept. in my school is extremely collaborative. So, even if I don’t have a specific mentor, I know the other instructors will be around to help me with lesson plans, test writing, etc. It’s one of the (many) reasons I accepted the offer at this school.

  9. abby76, thanks for the good wishes. As for what your high school advisor said, I’m typically very anti-social (I’m an introvert), but I *love* teaching. Maybe I’m an anomaly.

  10. Seraphine,

    I once heard Dallin H. Oaks speak at BYU about careers and career preparation. I was a little surprised to hear him counsel students not to rigidly over-plan their future lives, but to be open to unforeseen opportunities. He gave his own life as an example. As an undergrad, he studied accounting. During his last semester, he started job hunting, but also submitted an application to law school, since that is what some of his friends were doing. He was accepted to law school and consequently turned away from the CPA career he had anticipated. During his last year of law school, he started to look for a job as a lawyer, but was then asked to become a law professor, which foreclosed a career as a litigator. The church then unexpectedly asked him to be the president of BYU. He had managed to have a successful and fulfilling life, even though he hadn’t planned any of his career moves. His point seemed to be that when we are doing our best to do our best, we don’t need to lock ourselves into 5, 10, and 20 year plans. God can often inspire is in ways we don’t anticipate. The talk was very memorable for me because I had never thought of Elder Oaks as a “go with the flow” kind of guy.

    Best wishes with your new career direction. Your students should be thankful that they have such a cool teacher.

  11. Maybe introversion/extroversion does not apply as much to English teachers as I speculate that a lot of introverts tend towards that field where you fill up with ideas. Also, introverts tend to do well with speaking in general. I think that she meant ascpects outside of teaching that one might enjoy such as coaching or extracurricular if one is teaching high school that may not be found as much in College.

    I actually like youth a lot myself. It is a time that they are learning to think on both sides of an issue. They are so idealistic. They can imagine a utopia. There is so much energy in that group. I am not naiive to the problems of youth, but I see the good that is unique to that age as well.

  12. S: Please do! The independent school world is a small one — kind of like Mormonism’s three-degrees of separation. If you are on the East Coast, there’s a good chance I know somebody who knows somebody at your school. I’d love to compare courses, syllabuses, etc.

    I had my first day of meetings today at my new school — the English department exceeds my dreams. Warm, smart, collaborative.

    By the way, you aren’t going to overwhelmed with curriculum and correcting (you know that deal from college teaching, and independent schools tend to have manageable class sizes). It’s all the extras — advising, class trips, anxious parents, faculty meetings, clubs, assemblies, report card comments, sobbing girls who need advise. But I don’t resent any of it — it’s part of why I choose K-12 over post-secondary. Schools are communities; think the best of a ward in a secular environment. You’ll be surprised how attached you become — even if you expect to become attached.

  13. Congrats, Seraphine! This sounds like a good development for you.

    When I was studying ancient languages at BYU with the idea of becoming a classics professor, I briefly contemplated teaching Latin in high school.

    So one day I’m in downtown Provo and it’s cruisin’ time. And I’m walking around watching these kids, and I think to myself, “There’s no way I want to end up stuck in a classroom with these kids!” and I put the thought of teaching high school out of my mind.

    Of course, the likelihood that any of these obnoxious kids would sign up for Latin was not very high, but I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.

    (It all became moot inasmuch as I ended up going to law school anyway.)

  14. Seraphine, best of luck with teaching. I’ve been toying with the idea of homeschooling, but I don’t have the patience. I’m sure with your experience you’ll do great teaching HS.
    This post comes at a really interesting time for me. I’ve been thinking about what kind of career I want when my kids are in school or out of the house. (I’m pregnant with my 3rd, so there is quite a while still) Part of me has always wanted to go to law school and another part wants to become a physicians assistant. I guess I worry that I will invest time and money in pre-reqs and programs and then find out that I don’t really like what I signed up for. But maybe that’s just part of the gamble, isn’t it? It seems like more of a sacrifice because I would be doing some of this while my children are young, and I can’t have those moments back.
    But mostly, I guess my life course change is that I do want to have a career, I don’t want to stay at home long after my children are gone (even if that were an option, which it probably wont’ be 😉
    That’s a change of course for me.

  15. My sister (in her 40s) is in her second year of teaching English, and she really enjoys it. She was previously a print journalist, paramedic and school board member.

    My brother (in his 40s) just graduated with a BS in computer science. Prior to that he was an assistant to an artist and a restaurant sous chef.

    My sister is an RN who also worked as a travel agent and now works as an educational administrator.

    My sister with a doctorate in linguistics taught college for some years, and then switched to technical writing for high-tech companies.

    So on my side of the family, all of us have diverse career interests. This is very hard to explain to my husband’s side, in which dad and both sons have degrees in the same field and have always worked in that field.

  16. Congratulations on your new job and new life direction, Seraphine, and best of luck in (and out!) of the classroom. Although I generally enjoy teaching, like Kevin I’ve always had reservations about teaching high school partly because I disliked high school so much myself, but I imagine that the culture of the individual school makes all the difference.

    I often find decisions like this incredibly difficult. It can take me a long time to make them, and then a still longer time to quit second-guessing myself. Some very few decisions in my life have been based on crystal-clear spiritual experiences, but most of the time I get, at most, a general impression and then have to muddle through based on my own limited wisdom.

  17. Congratulations, Seraphine! I hope your new job works out well for you.

    Mark IV, I love the story about Elder Oaks and being open to big life changes.

  18. Thanks for sharing your interesting situation, Seraphine. I completed an MA program in Early Modern British Lit, and then wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do next. My husband needed financial support while he worked on his JD, and I found a job I love as a technical writer and part-time university instructor. It’s been a great thing for me at this point in my life, and I’ve loved the corporate environment so much that it has, in fact, changed the way I look at the rest of my life’s plan. If I have kids (I’m going on six years of marriage), it will be a huge change.

    I still entertain the idea of getting a PhD in the future, but can’t decide for sure what to pursue: Early Modernism (the most obvious choice), gender studies, or clinical psychology. Any way, it won’t be for awhile. But, I’ve found that for me personally I appreciate education with more life experience–I could get so much more out of a BA program now that I’m 10 years older and wiser than when I first went through. I see myself returning for that PhD sometime in middle age, when my (yet unborn) kids are older and my finances are more stable. I expect to understand the liberal arts differently at that time in my life, and I’m excited to see how my perspective changes from now.

    I really like Pres. Faust’s metaphor of how a woman’s life is a song, and we sing different verses, but we don’t sing all verses at the same time. Good luck to you!

  19. Mark IV, that’s good advice: I tend to be a person who likes to plan and stick to plans, but (as I am currently realizing) it can also be a really good thing if you’re willing to be flexible and alter plans if your life circumstances change.

    abby, you’re definitely right that young people can have a lot of idealism and energy, and that’s one of the exciting things about teaching them!

  20. Kevin, thanks for the good wishes.

    jessawhy, that does sound like a big course change. And there’s always a risk when you start something new that you won’t like it. But I always tell myself that if I start something and don’t like it, I can go do something else–there’s nothing holding you to a decision.

    Naismith, your family sounds similar to my own. Take my sister Vada (hi!), for example, who double majored in Computer Science and Anthropology, thought about doing grad school in Graphic Design, and is now working on getting her first fiction novel published.

  21. Eve, your reservations make perfect sense to me. I didn’t like high school much and I loved college, which always made me wary about going and teaching high school. But I think had I gone to the high school where I’m going to be teaching, I would have had a much, much better experience (I’m only halfway through staff training, and I adore the school already–the environment is really fabulous).

    I’m also a second-guesser, but I don’t think I’ve second-guessed this decision once, which is strange. The further I get on this path, the more right it feels. It’s a nice feeling.

  22. “I didn’t like high school much and I loved college, which always made me wary about going and teaching high school.”

    My standard line when I saw someone’s face contort when they learned I taught middle school:

    It’s much easier to teach middle school than it is to be a middle schooler.

    And, from what I can tell, it is also often easier to teach teenagers than it is to parent them. (e.g. I poured out my heart and smiles and best effort to my favorite teachers . . . and reserved my sulky moods for the ‘rents.)


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