Abstract Academic: Learning to apply myself

I’m about a month away from graduating, and I’m thinking about changing my major.

Of course, it isn’t practical to change my major (English education, with a minor in Lying About How Much of the Textbook I Really Read), but I don’t care. Anything to keep me in the happy womb of academia, where everything you do can be graded for points, and as long as you laugh at the professor’s four jokes, you’ll get an A.

The real world is frightening. No one cares how much you know about dead Irish poets. All they care about is the bottom line. Specifically, that this bottom line is a lot closer to finance and business marketing and nursing than it is to teaching kids how to spell “necessarily” (hint: N-E-C — maybe another C-E-S-S-S — oh, don’t even try; it’s way too hard).

I thought that graduation would have more of a zing to it — oh, the places I’ll go; the world is my omelet; you only miss the shots you don’t make, or something like that — but it’s been a little disappointing. Instead of rushing out, briefcase in hand, spinning and singing about new employment opportunities ala Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” I’ve spent the last two weeks filling out online job applications for teaching positions I probably won’t get. My resume has been burned into my corneas. Sometimes I sleep-dial my references and make them reassure me of my worth to society.

Online applications are just the worst. Everybody knows that they’re meaningless. You spend hours listing educational triumphs, trying to make it sound like you’re a former CEO of an international corporation who is just looking to give back to the world by teaching a little “Lord of the Flies,” and in the end, it always comes down to whether or not you have a cousin who works in the school district’s human resources department. Or to whether or not you speak some form of English, if you’re willing to coach.

Yesterday, I spent four hours on an application to teach English in a Colorado school district, and found out about halfway through (somewhere between “Work History” and “List Everyone You’ve Ever Shared A Straw With, By Order of Hair Color”) that they were only accepting candidates with master’s degrees. Thanks, unnamed district. I’d say who you are, but I’m pathetically hoping you’ll still call (I’m willing to coach debate!).

And it’s not like anyone in the offices these applications go to is actually checking all those boxes you filled with information, either. Education seminars and matronly professors have put the fear of death into us about making sure our application information is 100 percent accurate, error-free and punctuation-ally perfect. If it isn’t, we’ll lose out on valuable opportunities. We need to have our educational philosophies and unit objectives loaded and in our holsters, already formatted in the appropriate context of action-verb student objectives, such as “the student will compare and contrast ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Hamlet,’” or “the student will discuss alternative careers to teaching that make far more money, and don’t involve being yelled at by parents.”

I can picture an H.R. bureaucrat scrunched over in some low-lit district office, holding a magnifying glass, scrutinizing each printed application as it comes in (“Let’s see . . . outstanding test scores . . . spent six years building schools for the underprivileged . . . fluent in both Mandarin Chinese and Gaelic . . . a Nobel laureate. Wow . . . and a direct descendant of William Shakespeare! I don’t know why we wouldn’t hire this . . . oh, nope. Wait a minute. He used a semicolon where a colon was more appropriate. And he forgot to right-justify his contact information. DENIED!”).

So, instead of applying myself, I’m changing my major and staying in school. Hopefully, I can find something really vague, useless and drawn-out to study. Something with thousands of university positions, but no real jobs, like semiotic eco-humanitarianism, or ethical market-driven leadership health performance sales studies. Or English (rim-shot!).

I’m sure it’s possible. I’ve seen other people do it. Everybody has that cousin — the professional student — who manages to learn so much and is never forced to apply any of that knowledge.

Of course, I’d just settle for never having to apply.