Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writer Un-Educated

Yesterday I went to a job interview for a teaching position at a bilingual elementary school near where I live.  The interview was going well- my teaching experience and the kinds of things I’m used to doing were a perfect match for the vacancy.  The interviewer seemed to like me a lot and we had easy conversation.

Until she saw I didn’t have a college degree.

I’m used to it by now.  Seven and a half years ago I dropped out of college my last semester.  My daughter Lily was born in February and after her birth, I just couldn’t keep up with my classes (it was 20 credit schedule-the mad dash towards the cap and gown).  It was probably one of the hardest decisions I ever made- officially leaving a school that had taught me so much without the certificate to show how much work I’d put into it for three and half years.  I was so upset that even the secretary arranging my withdrawal shed a couple tears with me.

The hubs and I moved back to France shortly after so that he could support us.  Babies number two and three came along and time started to slowly but surely chip away at the credits I’d accumulated during those years.

To be honest, I’ve made my peace with it, although it took a long time.  And usually I just tell myself everyone’s paths are different and I took the road less traveled.

Yet having an employer look at me with such disappointment kind of re-opens the old wound.  She basically told me the only reason they’d hesitate in hiring me is because on the day they present the teachers to the parents they like to be able to say where I graduated and what certificates I hold.  If they can’t -then the parents will ‘chew me up and spit me out’- yes.  Her words.  And I decided maybe working with people like that probably isn’t my cup of tea.

It occurred to me on my way home from that interview- Writers don’t have to be college graduates in order to get published.  They don’t need to even be published in order to get published- like the vicious cycle sometimes suggests.  Writers are judged for their words.  In the here and now. 

Their thoughts, creativity, and endurance are what matters. Writing is a pure profession that doesn’t discriminate by background, age, culture, or ethnicity.  On the contrary- it brings so many different kinds of people together.  If I can’t be proud of my educational past- I can be proud of who I am today.  I’m proud to be a writer, even if I’m still unpublished.  I’ve stuck with it for almost as long as it takes to get a college degree and I’ve learned so much.  And I’m especially proud to be a part of this community and to have met all of you.

What part of your writing journey are you proud of?


Laura Pauling said...

Unfortunately, the teaching industry can be like that. Too bad. An education doesn't always make a great teacher. sorry about that!

Miranda Hardy said...

Sorry to hear about the interview, but you are right...this writing community is awesome. I was just talking about the subject of credentials to my writing partner yesterday. It truly doesn't matter your background, as long as the story is great.

Sarah said...

Yes, it's a pretty level field with regard to education for writers. Though I think education in general gives you an advantage in terms of thinking process, receiving criticism, etc., you can totally be successful without it if you have talent AND the willingness to really put in the work! Sorry to hear about that experience opening old wounds--that sounds so frustrating, particularly because you DO have the education, just not the certificate.

Old Kitty said...

I'm sorry about your interview experience. And I detest that experience is looked over in favour of paper qualifications. That is so utterly nonsensical.

I am truly sorry. I think you are destined to be in a better place than this one. I wish you all the best and good luck and keep going!! Take care

Gina Ciocca said...

People are so snobbish about degrees, when really they are just pieces of paper.

I filled in at the front desk for my chiropractor when their receptionist quit, and I remember Doc looking over a resume and sniffing because the woman had only completed two years of college. Do you REALLY need a degree to wipe people's forehead sweat off of a massage chair? No.

Nor do you need it to be a fantastic writer, which you are. So never let anyone intimidate you into thinking you're somehow less because of it. *steps off soapbox*

Unknown said...

I hate when something like this stops us from pursuing the possibility of something. My husband is going back to school to get a degree because that's what everyone wants so you can climb the proper ladders.

I like that writing doesn't need a degree. It does need a whole lot of work and a lot of perserverence but with love and a lot of push we can make it happen.

Stina said...

In Canada, you need a teaching certificate to teach school age kids. But to get a teaching certificate you have to either do two years of post secondary education (i.e. after you've received your bachelors degree in whatever) or a bachelors degree in education. That's part of the reality, which I'm more than fine with. I want to know my kids are taught by teachers who are knowledgeable about the subject they teach and about teaching. But there are tons of teacher who know these things and still suck as teachers. And vice versa.

B.E. Sanderson said...

:hugs: I totally feel your pain. I'm degree-less and spent years trying to work past the bias that no-degree = no-drive (or worse). I'm sorry you missed out on that job, but hang in there. There will be others - ones who will see your worth regardless of which pieces of paper you hold.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Well, I see chewing up teachers and spitting them out is not just limited to American parents. (Or were these American-living-in-France parents?)

Digging into the revisions of my WIP set in 1908, it's interesting to note that educations and degrees were not so prevalent back then. Working class kids could not afford to go to school; they had to start full time jobs even before their teenage years to help support their families. Thomas Edison never finished school -- he dropped out because he didn't get along with the teachers, was educated at home for awhile, and then started work in his early teens. He worked his way up to "famous inventor and businessman" on his own merits, with no degrees.

Interestingly enough, however, when he started Edison Labs, he hired men with college degrees for key positions. Times were changing, and so were the standards for hiring a good worker. Hardly fair, is it?

Matthew MacNish said...

I love this. Thanks, Katie, even though I'm sure it was painful.

My good friend and famous author Andrew has the best info on his Facebook profile.

It says: work: author at unemployed.
Education: studied at uneducated.


mshatch said...

that stinks, Katie. Is a degree required in France? It is here in the states - unless you teach at a private school. What about something akin to an ed tech position? Is it possible to transfer over your school credits and just take what classes you need to get a degree there? Hope you find something/somewhere that appreciates you, regardless of a piece paper.

Patti said...

That totally sucks, hopefully you can find somewhere to teach. Like many people have said a certificate or degree doesn't necessarily make you a great teacher.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

I'm with you on the education -- it's not all in college books.
I write and I also speak in classrooms. Some kids ask in the beginning of the year if they will get to hear me because a relative said they learned so much.
Don't give up on any of your passions.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, Katie-that is so hard. I'm so sorry. I know how life can interfere, and how we THINK we can keep going and just CAN'T. You're right, that the writing puts us on a merit basis, rather than a credentials one, and I prefer it myself. I think the best thing about writing though, is we can continue learning and growing indefinitely. I love that I get to improve forever...

Vicki Rocho said...

That sucks. I think they could've said you attended ___ University, and taught __ years at this school and that school etc.

She took the lazy way out. I don't think the parents would attack if you were presented properly.

erica and christy said...

I have a couple of opinions on that (which makes sense if you know me!). I am a teacher and have been for 14 years. My degree and licensing obligations help me do my job. So yes, I wholeheartedly agree that you need a degree to teach.

Do I have a degree in writing? No. But does my level of writing have anything to do with how others may perform in their future? Also, no.

Sorry, Katie. But I don't see how the two can be compared.

Johanna Garth said...

I'm so sorry you had that experience! It's probably their loss (but I know that's not very consoling). Take it from someone who has lots of degrees...they mean nothing. I learned the most important lessons working and doing!

K M Kelly said...

That must have been really frustrating for you. People do put and awful lot of stock on that little piece paper don't they?

Jennifer said...

Bummer about the interview. I never finished my college degree either because I decided a degree in Computer Science was worthless and it was better to spend time learning the stuff and getting the different certificates. Lucky for me that is widely expectable in my field. I do love that you don't need a degree to be a writer....I don't know why but it just feels powerful.

Cynthia Lee said...

I have a degree in English. Did it help me get a high-paying and worthwhile job?

Nope. Not even a little. It just means I'm saddled with student loans for a damned long time.

I really don't understand all this "you must get a college degree" business.

I know this is only sorta related to your situation, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

Talli Roland said...

I'm so sorry to hear about that. Sounds like you've made your peace with it, but I imagine it would be very frustrating!

Beth said...

Man, I'm all over the place on this one. First of all, I feel your pain, because I finished the hardest year of law school and had to drop out for various reasons. I'm really sorry you had this experience. But I do get what Erica said about teachers needing a degree and that it can't really be compared to writing. Then again, I get what Cynthia said about English degrees not getting you great jobs as I have one. (And I can't even teach with it b/c it's not in education). But I do feel the degree helps my writing in small ways.

Anonymous said...


I have absolutely no writing credentials whatsoever, LOL! I hope to get an "A for effort!" ;)

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the interview.

I'm a writer that is not yet published.

We just have to keep moving forward.

Tamara Narayan said...

As a former teacher, I really hate to read about such an interview. The experience should trump the degree! You don't learn how to be a good teacher until you do it.

I'm proud that I finished my first book, took the plunge and queried. I'm proud I went to NYC by myself and pitched to editors even though I was terrified. I'm proud of the requests for fulls even though I haven't gotten an offer.

Now comes the hard part: writing that second book, knowing how unlikely it is to be published. For those of you in the query trenches writing that second, third, fourth, etc. book, I salute you!

Tamara Narayan said...

As a former teacher, I hate reading about that interview. Your experience should trump the certificate. Someone doesn't learn to be a great teacher by taking courses, they have to actually do it. Teaching is so much more than having the knowledge in your brain.

As a writer, I'm proud of the following: finishing my first book and taking the plunge into querying, going to an NYC conference to pitch to editors even though I was terrified, and each request for a full even though I haven't gotten an offer yet.

Now comes the hard part--writing the second book knowing how unlikely it is to get published. For those of you writing that second, third, fourth, etc. book, I salute you!


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