In the beginning of my college experience, I had many interactions with well-meaning, usually older relatives or family friends that played out like:
“What are you majoring in at Arcadia?”
Then would come every English major’s favorite question:
“Oh. So what do you plan to do with that?”
Stay in school until the money runs out? Bartend? Write Amazon romance novels in the woods while raising goats and making soap? “I’m not really sure,” I’d settle on. “That’s Future Jess’s problem.”
After a polite laugh, they’d say, “You’re still young. You have time to figure it out.”
But time marches forward, whether we want it to or not. As soon as I finished my sophomore year, it was like a switch went off: “Future Jess” became simply Jess. People no longer seemed satisfied by my half-hearted, cop out answers. I had to figure out some semblance of a plan.
Until this point, I dealt with the overwhelming possibilities by saying yes to every opportunity that crossed my path, from freelance photography gigs, to volunteer work, to mentoring experiences. Exposed to new people and activities, I cultivated work experience to put on resumes and cover letters, priming myself for that dreaded “real world.” Even the jobs I was not crazy about allowed me to narrow my interests and further define my career goals.
This summer, I stumbled upon an opportunity that outshone the others— one that made me feel not-so-adrift. Arcadia’s Gateway to Success Program (known usually as Gateway) is a six-week summer program that helps students transition from high school to college, build self-efficacy and confidence, and navigate higher education. I fit into the mix as Gateway’s writing consultant. I attended all academic classes, ran a writing lab for students, and held consultations to help them with their papers.
During one of my writing center consultations in the bowels of Arcadia’s library, I was gazing past my student at green leaves rustling in a summer breeze and fluffy clouds crawling across a brilliant blue backdrop. It was not unusual to be saddled with six or more back-to-back appointments, and today was proving no different. I was glad, of course, that the students found me a valuable resource and were invested in their school work. However, the all-too-human part of me, the one that not even excessive Wawa coffee could rally, found myself aching for a traditional summer of beach visits and Netflix binges.
Running on fumes, I read the blurring sentences in front of me aloud, forcing my sluggish brain to focus. I brought up the notion of redundancy to the student, and he immediately rectified the sentence.
“I know you don’t want to hear it,” he said, scratching out phrases and drawing arrows to other paragraphs. “But I think you’d make a really good English teacher.”
I take comfort in the fact that my future is not set in stone— people change jobs all the time, never knowing exactly ‘what they want to be when they grow up.’ But I am grateful for the opportunities Arcadia has given me to try out different paths.
– Jess Derr
He was right. For most of my life, I hadn’t wanted to hear it. I wanted to rebel against the notion that education was the only path an English-minded person could take. It seemed so arbirtuary, so cyclical: English teachers teach English only to create more English teachers?
But I was brought back to how the student knew how to improve his paper because I taught him what to look out for. To the smiling faces of the students showing me their grades on their first collegiate papers. To being a nervous wreck because I was invested in their progress and didn’t want to make any pedagogical mistakes. To going home each day feeling exhausted, but satisfied, because I got to help people, even if in my own small way.
All this said, I don’t know if I’m going to be a teacher. I take comfort in the fact that my future is not set in stone— people change jobs all the time, never knowing exactly “what they want to be when they grow up.” But I am grateful for the opportunities Arcadia has given me to try out different career paths, and for the Gateway students who allowed me to share my passion for writing and helped me get over my aversion to teaching.
I still don’t have all the answers when people bombard me with questions regarding my future, but I’m moving forward more assured. Until then, I’ll keep saying yes to new opportunities and see where things take me.