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Wanting to be a high school English teacher before PhD?


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Hi, everyone.

 

I'm a reject (tee hee) from all my PhD programs. But I'm taking it in stride and working hard to figure out my next move.

 

I got a useless MA from NYU in Humanities, and it's a really shitty school. I got some solid recommendations from two professors (that weren't too busy or pompous), but I feel like I need to broaden my scope of literature more. This is why I'm contemplating getting a second MA in English Lit.

 

However, in the meantime, I'm working to get teaching experience under my belt. I got NY certification to be a high school English teacher, but to work, the schools are looking for experience, which I don't have. This is why I'm applying to a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. They can give me student teaching experience and high school placement. It only takes a year.

 

But I want to go back for a second MA in English for when I do apply again to a PhD program. NYU was a terrible experience for me. I HATED it there, and I despised the professors too. Although I did get two solid letters, it wasn't enough for me to get accepted. That's why I think a second MA would benefit me.

 

I'm not sure if I should apply for both an MA in English and an MAT, or should I just apply to one and wait? Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.

 

Cheers. :)

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Can I ask-- why do you want to be an English professor? I'm sure there's a lot of reasons that your experience was unpleasant, and I don't doubt that there are many pompous professors in the world. But if you're particularly bothered by that kind of thing, academia might not be your long-term career goal. I don't detect a lot of pomposity in my own academic life, but I'm not sensitive to it. More to the point, I worry that your hate of NYU's MA program may have less to do with the specific program and more to do with academic culture writ large. I'm also disturbed that you would define your MA as useless and a school as "really shitty." If you don't value your own education, how can you turn around and ask PhD programs to respect your work? I get that this is partly why you want to get an MA in lit. But if your MA in lit is only a means to improve your PhD program chances, that seems like a low-upside approach to me, given that the literature job market is so terrible and that you'd likely be paying out of pocket/with loans for an MA in lit. And since you're talking about getting a second MA, then teaching high school, then getting a third MA, we're looking at, what, 4-5 years in a best case scenario, then 5-8 years of a PhD? I'm not trying to be discouraging. I just don't really get this plan.

 

Do you want to teach high school? It's an honorable profession that can be very rewarding. The pay is low to start and it can be a major emotional investment, but in time you'll make more money. And your odds of building a career are much higher than in higher education, and would take way less school than the plan you've laid out here. Have you thought about that? Or is high school teaching just something that you see as a means to get into a PhD program? I'm not sure that would help you. I dunno, just my 2 cents.

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Can I ask-- why do you want to be an English professor? I'm sure there's a lot of reasons that your experience was unpleasant, and I don't doubt that there are many pompous professors in the world. But if you're particularly bothered by that kind of thing, academia might not be your long-term career goal. I don't detect a lot of pomposity in my own academic life, but I'm not sensitive to it. More to the point, I worry that your hate of NYU's MA program may have less to do with the specific program and more to do with academic culture writ large. I'm also disturbed that you would define your MA as useless and a school as "really shitty." If you don't value your own education, how can you turn around and ask PhD programs to respect your work? I get that this is partly why you want to get an MA in lit. But if your MA in lit is only a means to improve your PhD program chances, that seems like a low-upside approach to me, given that the literature job market is so terrible and that you'd likely be paying out of pocket/with loans for an MA in lit. And since you're talking about getting a second MA, then teaching high school, then getting a third MA, we're looking at, what, 4-5 years in a best case scenario, then 5-8 years of a PhD? I'm not trying to be discouraging. I just don't really get this plan.

 

Do you want to teach high school? It's an honorable profession that can be very rewarding. The pay is low to start and it can be a major emotional investment, but in time you'll make more money. And your odds of building a career are much higher than in higher education, and would take way less school than the plan you've laid out here. Have you thought about that? Or is high school teaching just something that you see as a means to get into a PhD program? I'm not sure that would help you. I dunno, just my 2 cents.

 

 

 

If it's the unversity's cash cow program, then it's a shitty program. :) Just ask the professors at Columbia, U. Chicago, CUNY, and U. Mass Amherst. They all said the same thing.

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Yeah, but that's not really my point. Why do you want to be a PhD student? And why do you think high school teaching experience will make it easier for you to get into good programs? If you just want experience teaching on your applications, then you'd get a lot more out of adjuncting for a year. If you're in NYC, there's plenty of colleges where you can teach a couple sections of freshman writing as an adjunct. The pay will be bad and they won't care much about you, but it'll be real college teaching experience and you won't have to go through the motions of getting a MAT that you only want as a bridge to a PhD program. Unless I'm misunderstanding your purpose in getting teaching experience. Do you want to get a PhD in lit specifically to become a professor? And is that because of a love for research, or a desire to teach, or what?

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Why I want to settle down as a high school English teacher for now:

 

1- I almost died a few months ago from an anxiety attack that left me hospitalized, so I need to get healthy while working in my field preferably. (And please note that just because I'm sick, it doesn't mean I'm not cut out for academia, QE's, etc. There are plenty of anxious people who have made significant contributions to academia).

2- I am sick of the GRE, the nausea, the panic attacks, the constant bickering and arguing with my family, the blackouts, the study groups, the endless practice tests, the money spent on material, the tutors and their impatience, and come exam day, the terrible scores I always receive.

3- I am overall tired and mentally drained of trying to get into graduate school right now.

4- I would like some teaching experience since I wasn't an Ed major in college.

 

Why I despise NYU:

 

1- I get it. You're NYU. You go to one of the most competitive programs in the nation, but that doesn't give you the right to belittle your colleagues or talk down to those who haven't had the same advantages.

2- The professors have no compassion, nor do they wish to help a non-English department foreign student. I basically had to beg my three professors for solid letters to PhD programs and even then, they told me I don't have a "shot in hell."

3- The cost of living and the fiance I lost

4- The way the professors don't show up to office hours or respond to emails, yet they always have all the time in the world for their English/Comp Lit students.

 

 

Why I want a PhD in English

 

1- I want to research a topic that I am passionate about. Reading a book or attaining a master's simply isn't enough. I want to become an expert in my field.

2- I wish to broaden my scope of the American novel

3- I want to be a professor and encourage a modernized society why the novel is a significant aspect of the working world.

Edited by youngcharlie101
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Well that all makes some sense to me.... If you're sure you want to get that MAT, I think you should just apply for that, go through your training and your student teaching, and see how you feel when you're done.

 

Thanks, friend. Yeah, I think I might teach for a bit, and if I ever change my mind about the PhD, I guess I can try to go back. Grad school will always be there.

 

It's terrible, you know? I wish I would have known this about NYU before I invested. The hierarchy disturbs me immensely.

 

But hey, at least I know now what I didn't know then. Here's hoping I'll be happy sometime this year. :) Thanks very much for your patience in reading my question.

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I think the best years of my life were in college. It wasn't a shark tank where everyone was waiting for me to fail.

I'm trying so hard to erase the trauma of NYU from my brain. I was tested at every turn. I lived in a city I hated with these pretentious roommates and verbally abusive folk; I was hospitalized twice and treated like garbage by the professors; I lost the man I loved; I wrote a thesis with an adviser outside NYU since the professors wanted nothing to do with me.

Ugh, I hate NYU. I'm a very angry woman right now. Lol. :)

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Well I don't mean to offer unsolicited advice, but I think that one aspect of getting your MAT should be to try hard to set NYU aside emotionally and intellectually. Get away from it. And get away from that branch of academia in general. Really throw yourself into teaching and then, when you finish that degree, you will be able to make decisions about PhD programs with a clear head, and hopefully with the bad taste of NYU fully gone. 

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Oh no, your advice means the world to me right now. I feel so isolated from my own community that I come here to seek advice about grad school.

You're so right. I definitely need to stay the bleep away from academia right now. My emotional and physical sanity depend on it. Hopefully teaching will be a good calling for me.

Thanks, friend. :-)

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Speaking frankly here, and I know I'm just some guy commenting on the Internet, but...

 

-I'm completely at a loss as to why you would want to get another M.A. in English. One should be enough, unless there is a VERY compelling reason otherwise.

 

-Hating a program and despising professors is not a good sign. While I can't say whether or not NYU's English department is "typical," it is nevertheless academia...and if you had a really bad experience, then it might be a reflection on you and whether academia is the best fit for you in general. You say you hated your pretentious roommates and hated the city as well? That's...a lot of hate.

 

-The GRE can be stressful, to be sure, but if it is bringing on dangerous fits of anxiety, including hospitalization, it's hard for me to imagine what the stress of a high school (or college) classroom could do. Again, I don't know you at all, but these are signs you need to take seriously.

 

-Your posts are tinged with talk of "trauma," "stress," "hatred" for various aspects of the process. At some point does this add up to something other than "try again"?

 

Again, just some frank thoughts. In a high school classroom, you'll be encountering up to thirty or so teenagers...most of whom are only there because they have to be. It will be stressful. A Ph.D. program will be five years of academic rigor, including stress-inducing comps and dissertation deadlines etc. It's a lot of anxiety. Much more, comparatively, than the GRE.

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Speaking frankly here, and I know I'm just some guy commenting on the Internet, but...

 

-I'm completely at a loss as to why you would want to get another M.A. in English. One should be enough, unless there is a VERY compelling reason otherwise.

 

-Hating a program and despising professors is not a good sign. While I can't say whether or not NYU's English department is "typical," it is nevertheless academia...and if you had a really bad experience, then it might be a reflection on you and whether academia is the best fit for you in general. You say you hated your pretentious roommates and hated the city as well? That's...a lot of hate.

 

-The GRE can be stressful, to be sure, but if it is bringing on dangerous fits of anxiety, including hospitalization, it's hard for me to imagine what the stress of a high school (or college) classroom could do. Again, I don't know you at all, but these are signs you need to take seriously.

 

-Your posts are tinged with talk of "trauma," "stress," "hatred" for various aspects of the process. At some point does this add up to something other than "try again"?

 

Again, just some frank thoughts. In a high school classroom, you'll be encountering up to thirty or so teenagers...most of whom are only there because they have to be. It will be stressful. A Ph.D. program will be five years of academic rigor, including stress-inducing comps and dissertation deadlines etc. It's a lot of anxiety. Much more, comparatively, than the GRE.

 

I wasn't in the NYU English department. I took some classes in that department, and LOVED it. It's the NYU Draper Program that I wasn't so fond of.

 

And also, I didn't get a chance to visit the campus when I first got accepted. I live in London.

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Why I want a PhD in English

 

1- I want to research a topic that I am passionate about. Reading a book or attaining a master's simply isn't enough. I want to become an expert in my field.

2- I wish to broaden my scope of the American novel

3- I want to be a professor and encourage a modernized society why the novel is a significant aspect of the working world.

 

I wish you the best and I am rooting for you. I know academia, especially in NY I hear, can be a very alienating place.  I first want to say that all of your traumas and anxieties are in part a result of academia.  Depending on what you were going through, I think your responses are a normal response. 

 

Let me ask you this, how were you fostering advisement relationships?  What types of things were you doing to develop mentors for you?  What types of networking, office hours, etc? Further, if you were in office hours, how were you approaching that valuable time?

 

I also ask because the three things you listed as why you want to be a professor are very different than what most Ph.D. programs are looking for in a student.  

 

Also, are you a person of color?  I am, and if you are, there are even more nuances you have to be aware of when navigating academia. 

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I'm very sorry you went through all this. I had a really miserable experience the first time I went to graduate school as well, so I sympathize.

 

I also have two master's degrees (in different fields), but both were fully funded. I wouldn't recommend going back for an MA in English. Frankly, I don't think it will do anything for your PhD application other than underscore the fact that you couldn't get into a PhD program. It's not fair, but PhD programs often look at candidates with unusual trajectories as having been left on the vine for too long. I definitely confronted that bias when I applied.

 

If you want an MAT, you should get one with the thought that you really want to be a teacher. Otherwise, I don't think it's wise to invest so much in that kind of degree. I really don't think it's wise to invest in that degree with the thought that you're just doing this for the time being but you REALLY want a PhD.

 

Have you thought about doing some other things to get experience as a teacher without plunging directly into an MAT? What about Teach for America or NY Teaching Fellows? Moreover, if you have a certificate already, you should probably continue to try to find work with it. It may take a long time in this market, but I'm not sure that the MAT will make you more employable as a teacher.

 

This advice might be unnecessary here, but I also have to point out that PhD programs are incredibly stressful. Like, ridiculously so. I really enjoyed my PhD, but I think that was because I was a little older and had some perspective. When I went back to school at 30, I also knew who I was. (The first time I went to grad school I was 22 and I didn't know right from left, and I got eaten alive at my program.) But even though I enjoyed it, the PhD was still really, really hard. Coursework is hard--it's constant performance. Exams are hard--I almost failed mine. Writing a dissertation is a constant slog--I would have chapter draft after chapter draft get turned down by my advisor. On top of all that, I had to teach every semester, and sometimes my students were not nice. Then there's the job market, lol. The job market is like the PhD admissions process on steroids. Instead of vying against 300 people for one of 14 slots in a grad program, you're vying against 500 people for one little job, and some of these people already have TT jobs and books published. And oh yeah--then there's getting published via anonymous peer review. Readers reports can be brutal.

 

All of that is to say that you need to be in a mostly secure place before you embark on a PhD program because PhD programs are a test of emotional and psychological endurance. I could not have done it in my 20s, and I could not have done it after coming out of the MA program where I did not have a good experience. It took working outside academia for about 5 years to get to the place where a PhD actually seemed fun in comparison.

Edited by lifealive
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I'm going to agree with those who already posted, but I'm going to be harsher about it. I don't know you, but from the posts I've read (on various threads) it does not seem like you *like* academia. And if your professors tell you you're not going to get into a PhD program, well, then maybe you're not ready/not cut out for academia. If the whole process stresses you out so much, why are you pursuing it? I'm telling you, it doesn't get easier. Finally, I'm pretty uncomfortable with the way you're talking about your program and your professors. It's very unprofessional. 

Edited by CarolineKS
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I think I'll echo part of lifealive's advice and note that it sounds like you really need time away from academia to figure out who you are and what you want. Sorry if that sounds presumptuous but from all the threads you've made here, it sounds like you actually have no idea what you want. From status updates and other conclusions you've made, you said you were giving up on Ph.D. aspirations forever and throwing yourself whole-heartedly into secondary teaching but now you're thinking about getting two more MA's?

 

These are huge decisions and I'm not sure if anyone in real life is pressuring you, but there really is no rush. The last thing you want to do is get into a situation again that harms you mentally and physically.

 

You're absolutely right that folks with trauma and mental illness have made enormous contributions to academia and your past experiences should not preclude you from doing the same. However, and I said this to you in your GRE thread, it sounds like you need to work on your own (mental and physical) resiliency first. Graduate school is absolutely not a place that one should go to get one's ego stroked. A few of my colleagues have had past traumas/mental illness and came in expecting to be warmly and kindly supported by every single member of the faculty. The second that this was not the case, they melted down and went into "I hate the faculty here" rants like the one that you keep returning to. I'm not saying that this is exactly what happened to you, but you need to find ways to cope with the assholes who will inevitably crop up in your professional life, be they within academia or without. 

 

Take time for yourself, seek additional professional advice and strategizing methods for coping with anxiety and trauma, and then find your way back to graduate school if you're ready for it down the road.

 

Edit: Okay, well thanks for downvoting me! Do whatever the hell you want.

Edited by 1Q84
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I'm going to agree with those who already posted, but I'm going to be harsher about it. I don't know you, but from the posts I've read (on various threads) it does not seem like you *like* academia. And if your professors tell you you're not going to get into a PhD program, well, then maybe you're not ready/not cut out for academia. If the whole process stresses you out so much, why are you pursuing it? I'm telling you, it doesn't get easier. Finally, I'm pretty uncomfortable with the way you're talking about your program and your professors. It's very unprofessional. 

 

Well, you know absolutely nothing about me, so there's that. :) I apologize if I offended you, but perhaps you can try getting through to NYU's Draper Program. 

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I'm very sorry you went through all this. I had a really miserable experience the first time I went to graduate school as well, so I sympathize.

 

I also have two master's degrees (in different fields), but both were fully funded. I wouldn't recommend going back for an MA in English. Frankly, I don't think it will do anything for your PhD application other than underscore the fact that you couldn't get into a PhD program. It's not fair, but PhD programs often look at candidates with unusual trajectories as having been left on the vine for too long. I definitely confronted that bias when I applied.

 

If you want an MAT, you should get one with the thought that you really want to be a teacher. Otherwise, I don't think it's wise to invest so much in that kind of degree. I really don't think it's wise to invest in that degree with the thought that you're just doing this for the time being but you REALLY want a PhD.

 

Have you thought about doing some other things to get experience as a teacher without plunging directly into an MAT? What about Teach for America or NY Teaching Fellows? Moreover, if you have a certificate already, you should probably continue to try to find work with it. It may take a long time in this market, but I'm not sure that the MAT will make you more employable as a teacher.

 

This advice might be unnecessary here, but I also have to point out that PhD programs are incredibly stressful. Like, ridiculously so. I really enjoyed my PhD, but I think that was because I was a little older and had some perspective. When I went back to school at 30, I also knew who I was. (The first time I went to grad school I was 22 and I didn't know right from left, and I got eaten alive at my program.) But even though I enjoyed it, the PhD was still really, really hard. Coursework is hard--it's constant performance. Exams are hard--I almost failed mine. Writing a dissertation is a constant slog--I would have chapter draft after chapter draft get turned down by my advisor. On top of all that, I had to teach every semester, and sometimes my students were not nice. Then there's the job market, lol. The job market is like the PhD admissions process on steroids. Instead of vying against 300 people for one of 14 slots in a grad program, you're vying against 500 people for one little job, and some of these people already have TT jobs and books published. And oh yeah--then there's getting published via anonymous peer review. Readers reports can be brutal.

 

All of that is to say that you need to be in a mostly secure place before you embark on a PhD program because PhD programs are a test of emotional and psychological endurance. I could not have done it in my 20s, and I could not have done it after coming out of the MA program where I did not have a good experience. It took working outside academia for about 5 years to get to the place where a PhD actually seemed fun in comparison.

 

Thanks for being so sweet, supportive, and helpful. It's like a shark tank here. Many members are the first to pounce on you when you're already down! :) It's not like I asked to be brought up in an abusive household and traumatized. I have anxiety. People really need to get over it.

 

Yeah, I'm thinking about my MAT for now. I'd love to be a high school teacher and get these kids ready for college. I'll probably be back to grad school later; after all, my brother-in-law just got his PhD and he's 37. :)

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First off, youngcharlie, I think there's some valuable advice in this thread. I can't imagine a scenario in which getting three masters degrees is a good idea. Taking some time off to teach (maybe as a sub?) and doing some independent research may be a good use of the next year.

Second off, I want to again state how problematic it is to imply that someone is unfit for the academy because of anxiety. Academia is not kind to people with mental disabilities such as anxiety, depression, and autism, but the solution shouldn't be to keep those people out. The solution should be to challenge ableist rhetoric and culture.

Scholars with mental disabilities face unique challenges in academia, but many succeed and work toward improving the climate of the university. Melanie Yergeau, a professor at University of Michigan, has a powerful article in Disability Studies Quarterly about being institutionalized her first week as a TT prof. That article won a prestigious award at CCCC this weekend. Margaret Price has written extensively about how her mental disability has made her a better professor and scholar. Amy Vidali has a piece coming out about her experiences with depression as a WPA.

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First off, youngcharlie, I think there's some valuable advice in this thread. I can't imagine a scenario in which getting three masters degrees is a good idea. Taking some time off to teach (maybe as a sub?) and doing some independent research may be a good use of the next year.

Second off, I want to again state how problematic it is to imply that someone is unfit for the academy because of anxiety. Academia is not kind to people with mental disabilities such as anxiety, depression, and autism, but the solution shouldn't be to keep those people out. The solution should be to challenge ableist rhetoric and culture.

Scholars with mental disabilities face unique challenges in academia, but many succeed and work toward improving the climate of the university. Melanie Yergeau, a professor at University of Michigan, has a powerful article in Disability Studies Quarterly about being institutionalized her first week as a TT prof. That article won a prestigious award at CCCC this weekend. Margaret Price has written extensively about how her mental disability has made her a better professor and scholar. Amy Vidali has a piece coming out about her experiences with depression as a WPA.

 

I loved your response. Thank you so much, dear friend. I'm so tired of being considered "unfit" for academia because of my condition. It's crazy! 

 

I definitely am going to teach for a bit before heading back to academia. I already have my MA in Humanities, but I've often heard that it's worthless unless I get an MA in my field, which is literature. That's why I wanted to know if I need a second MA. 

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First off, youngcharlie, I think there's some valuable advice in this thread. I can't imagine a scenario in which getting three masters degrees is a good idea. Taking some time off to teach (maybe as a sub?) and doing some independent research may be a good use of the next year.

Second off, I want to again state how problematic it is to imply that someone is unfit for the academy because of anxiety. Academia is not kind to people with mental disabilities such as anxiety, depression, and autism, but the solution shouldn't be to keep those people out. The solution should be to challenge ableist rhetoric and culture.

Scholars with mental disabilities face unique challenges in academia, but many succeed and work toward improving the climate of the university. Melanie Yergeau, a professor at University of Michigan, has a powerful article in Disability Studies Quarterly about being institutionalized her first week as a TT prof. That article won a prestigious award at CCCC this weekend. Margaret Price has written extensively about how her mental disability has made her a better professor and scholar. Amy Vidali has a piece coming out about her experiences with depression as a WPA.

 

I haven't seen anyone imply that it youngcharlie is "unfit" for academia because of her condition. I mean, I hope I haven't implied that and if I have I apologize. I suffer from fairly severe anxiety and depression, and I had to take a while off to, as IQ84 else put it, " work on [my] own (mental and physical) resiliency first." I think it's important to know what kind of situation you're setting yourself up for, which in the case of academia is kind of a shark tank (to borrow youngcharlie's words). In no way am I (or anyone else I've read) claiming that people who suffer from these kinds of conditions should refrain from entering academia, but I am saying that academia is depressing and anxiety provoking in itself. So, I think preparing yourself and trying to get a handle on your condition as much as possible before taking the plunge is only sound advice. Further, if academia is causing you to have physical or mental breakdowns, it's not f*cking worth it! Your health is more important, and academia can suck it. 

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