What are you going to do with an English major? Teach?
BY SEAN STANHILL, CLASS OF 2008
I started my freshman year at Augsburg as a computer science major, which lasted about as long as my enrollment in the intro class. My fantasies of working in information technology persisted, and I remained employed by the IT department throughout my four years there. While I was tanking in my Java class, I surprised myself with how adept I was in Professor Cowgill’s Expository Writing class. The insecure approval-seeker that I could be, I quickly shifted into an English major. It wasn’t long after when I first heard the question, “So, English major, huh? Are you going to teach?”
“No,” I pleaded. English was just my major. I was going into tech!
That’s exactly what I told my Peace Corps recruiter a few months before graduation. I wanted to go to Sub-Saharan Africa as an information technology volunteer. A month later, I received my offer letter to go to the Philippines to teach English as a foreign language. They must not have seen my resume. “We just think you’re better suited to teach English,” I distinctly remember them saying. Fine, I took it. Two years there and back and I landed in Phoenix to stay with family while I finally started my technology-focused career. Needless to say, the economy still sucked, and I started looking for a job elsewhere like South Korea to teach ESL. So I did. For four years. While I was there, I helped start a now setto-pasture startup with fellow alumnus Brian Krohn. I kept my tech skills sharp, knowing I would need to rely on them when I finally got back to the States.
In 2014 I was married, repatriated, and I found myself in Memphis, Tenn; I was finally ready to get my technology career off the ground. I applied for 43 technology-related positions throughout Memphis, and not once did I get a call back. I applied for one high school English position and was offered the job within a week. I’ve been with the W.E.B. DuBois Charter School Consortium for three years now. We’re a Title I school with 100% of our students on a free lunch program. I’m the lead teacher for both our middle and high schools and have earned an advanced certification from Google for Educators (finally got that tech in!).
There is a reason that the average new teacher burns out after three or four short years in the classroom: it’s difficult, thankless and stressful. However, there is one thing that has kept me going which has nothing to do with my major, and that is constantly contemplating who I’m actually working for. At this job, nor at any of my past jobs, I have never really worked for myself. I teach. Therefore, I work for my students.
What do I do with an English major? Admittedly, I teach. What do I do with an English major from Augsburg? I work in service. That’s the difference Augsburg makes. It was never about my major; I still look forward to starting my career in technology.
This article first appeared in the Friday, October 20, 2017, Edition of The Echo.