You’re an English major? Oh, so you want to be a teacher?
When I tell people I am an English major I am often asked, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher?” Or, “Oh, so you like to write?” Or, “Oh, you like to read?” These questions stem from the mindset, what could you possibly do with an English major other than teach? Being a teacher and liking to read and write are not the only things being an English major means. Let me elaborate.
Being a teacher may be the dream for some English majors, however, it’s not the dream for all English majors, including me. Majoring in English can, excuse me, will open the door to a wide range of career opportunities because of the skills being an English major has provided me with.
Some, but not all of the skills I will graduate with as an English major include: critical thinking, effective communication, creative expression, persuasive writing, and close reading skills. In other words, I will be able to read, write, and communicate effectively with whatever and whoever I need to. This will allow me the opportunity, if I so choose, to have a career in law, government, media (television/film, print, or radio), professional writing, publishing, business, and education (elementary, secondary, or higher), whether you believe it or not.
Writing is something I do avidly and enjoy doing, but my writing world doesn’t evolve around 5–15 page papers as most people seem to think. A lot of the assignments I’ve done I’ve published here, on Medium. On some I was graded well, some decent, and one very poorly. However, none of them on here are academic papers. A lot of them allowed me to play with language and incorporate images in ways that allowed me to get my ideas across in ways an academic paper wouldn’t have allowed me to.
Reading is another thing I enjoy doing, but I haven’t always been a reader. Sure, I read some when I was younger, but a lot of the texts I read in high school didn’t interest me as a reader and made me not want to read. Unfortunately, this is a commonality that draws less and less high school graduates away from the English major, for they fear it’ll be similar to their high school experiences with English.
As for reading, I’ve had a lot of exposure to canonical texts and scholarly papers. There have been some I’ve absolutely hated and some I have truly enjoyed. Regardless of my reaction to a text it’s not about whether I like it or not, I’ve come to realize it’s about what I am able to take from it that makes all texts significant. Although I hated reading Christopher Columbus’ journals, I learned a lot about the time period, slavery, the throne of Spain, and European expansion whether or not I liked Columbus’ approach to expansion or how he wrote. Aside from reading canonical classics, scholarly papers, and theory, my classes also allow me to explore the worlds of speeches, podcasts, interviews, blogs, articles, young adult novels, non-fiction, poetry, and all the other genres I am forgetting. All of these genres I listed were created to be read. Not only do I get the opportunity as an English major to read what amazing people are creating everyday, I also get the opportunity to get my feet wet in writing in these genres as well.
I came into college with some of the fears high school graduates come into college with. I feared English 101 would be the same as high school English. However, after my English 101 class my first quarter of college I learned that English was more than reading Grapes of Wrath and writing a five page paper on it. I decided to take another class or two and see what happened. What happened was I liked where English was taking me and I stuck with it. Now, I am in my final year of school with a degree in English Literature and minor in Writing Studies right around the corner with no regrets of my choice and the plan of being a teacher as an afterthought.
Some people you probably know of but probably don’t know graduated with undergraduate degrees in English include: Mitt Romney, Andrea Jung, Conan O’Brien, Tony Kornheiser, Harold Varmus, Mario Cuomo, Barbara Walters, Clarence Thomas, Skip Bayless, Steven Speilberg, Angelo Barlett Giamati, Judy McGrath, and Shonda Rhimes. These are just some of many that graduated with English degrees and did not pursue the career path of teaching.
I will be 22 years old when I graduate, if I do decide to teach at some point down the road it will be much later. I mean, I’m only going to be 22; if I start teaching at 40 I could still teach for 25 years or more. After I have explored other opportunities my major has allowed me to explore I will decide what I want to do from there. As for now, when I tell people I am an English major and get asked, “So, you want to be a teacher?” I will respond, “I’m not sure, I’m thinking either a CEO, journalist, film director, or Supreme Court Justice.” And when they respond with “What?” or, “How?”, because we both know they will, I will say with confidence, “Because majoring in English will allow me to.”