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Am I a writer or a teacher?

As I write this, another window is open on my computer with essays I should be grading. I need to get my student's their feedback so they can go through edits and turn in a revised draft in just four days. I can't focus though. Reading over 70 essays discussing the same topic is exhausting. Most of my students are college freshmen. On occasion, I get some upperclassmen who need one more credit to graduate, but even then, most of my students don't know where to begin when putting together a coherent argumentative essay with sources. This isn't to bash any of my students. Our school system is so flawed that I often get students who have been so discouraged and beaten down when it comes to writing that they all but shut down at the first assignment.

See, good writing requires the ability to think critically, and with so much testing and revision of our academic standards, many of my students don't know how to do this. They are desperate for a "right" answer and as we all know, that doesn't always exist in writing.

I got my master's degree because I wanted to be in school and learn forever, but also because I knew I wanted to teach. I was raised by teachers and it felt like a noble career that would lend itself to my writing dreams. Summers off, done by 4; it sounded like a dream. plus I got to shape young minds. I wanted to teach high school or middle school English, but after doing a few short-term contracts I realized I was not cut out for the parents, constant testing, and ever-shifting state standards. I might also add that I'm in Florida, which is not a great place to be a teacher who wants her students to think critically.

Teaching at the college level has so much more freedom and it's with students who (for the most part) really want to be there. They're paying to be there– or their parents are. The level of engagement and accountability makes it so I can teach fun things and have decent class discussions. In fact, I spend so much time adjusting lesson plans, giving students feedback, or simply grading that my writing often takes a back seat. Turns out, the thing that was supposed to help facilitate my writing dreams is actively hindering them. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching. Especially when I get to teach a creative writing class, but it takes up so much time!

See, I've found myself in this loop with no way out. I'm teaching at a university and I love it. They are so nice and so good to me, but I'm still an adjunct. Which means I get maybe two classes a semester, three if I'm lucky, and I only get paid about $2,000 per class. That is very little money. In addition, I'm teaching asynchronously online, which I don't love. I miss being in person. I miss the energy of a classroom. I would love to teach somewhere else, but no one wants to hire me without a few more publications to my name. See the loop yet? I want to teach more, but nowhere will higher me without more publications, but teaching takes up so much time I don't write, which means I don't submit, so I can't get publications.

While trying to get out of this loop I find myself asking the question: Am I a teacher first, or a writer first? Can I allow myself to give less to my students and steal that time away to write? Is that really fair to them? Should I just keep back burnering my writing so my students get my full attention? Maybe I could take a summer off (and suffer the financial burden) to focus on writing? Again, being an adjunct means if I don't work, I don't get paid. It's this cycle I'm trapped in trying to balance these two passions and feeling like I'm not very good at either. I think a lot of other writers find themselves in this position.

We're told that teaching is the solution to being a writer. How many published authors also teach? The answer is so many, like an insane number of them. It's supposed to be conducive to writing. You get to be a little creative and a little structured. You have summers "off" and it isn't supposed to take up too much brain space, but if you really care about it, it does. Because I want to be actively good at whatever I do, and when I have students who have been beaten down by the five-paragraph essay since they were in fifth grade, I feel compelled to put in the extra work to make them like writing again. I can't help myself.

The truth behind this rant is that I don't know the answer. If I never publish, if my writing doesn't work out, then I need to be satisfied with being a teacher and know I put my best effort into it. Even if my writing does work out, I'll probably still be teaching. We all know writing rarely pays enough to live off. That doesn't mean I'm more of a teacher though. I like it, but it isn't the thing that gives me life and sustains me creatively. It isn't my passion. So I'm stuck in this limbo of being both, a writer and a teacher. Each ripping away little pieces of the other, trying to grab whatever free time and brain space I have.

I know so many of us struggle with this battle, whether it's teaching or some other profession, there is a battle raging within us about which will get more attention– our job or our writing. I'm sure we've all been fed the "starving artist" trope, but forgive me if I don't want to starve for my art. I want to be able to help my partner with our house, and expenses, and eventually support a child. I just wish I could do all of that not at the expense of my passion.

Ever so slowly I'm trying to find a balance. Keeping my weekends to myself and my writing. Putting more effort into creative endeavors, like this blog or my Instagram. Just spending more time thinking about my novel, and less time answering emails. Rather than an 80/20 split of work to writing, I'm striving for a 60/40. Just enough to give my writing a fighting chance of being truly successful.

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