Today I turned down a wonderful job offer to work as an education director for a museum. The job would give me the opportunity to develop curricular materials for teachers and students, organize conferences and other workshops around the country, and work with some of the most talented Civil War historians in the country. Since my interview on Tuesday I’ve been wracking my brains trying to figure out what to do. I could not have been more impressed with the group that interviewed me; their commitment to educational outreach was solidified for me within the first five minutes. In short, the job would be both challenging and rewarding. The first thing I said to my wife was that it would be incredibly exciting and enjoyable to work with the individuals who interviewed me. Veteran readers of this blog know that I’ve been looking to reach out beyond the classroom and this has led to different projects, including the development of exhibits at Monticello as well as presentations on how to teach the Civil War. In the coming weeks I will begin a book project with my thesis adviser that will help teachers to better utilize Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary in the classroom.
As I thought carefully about what to do I kept coming back to the same question. As much as I viewed this particular change in career as an opportunity I wondered whether it would offer an experience comparable to what I get from teaching. While I would be working with children of various ages it would not be over time. My job allows me to build relationships with individuals that often outlast the time in the classroom. A number of my students have gone on to study history and a few have even become teachers. What I am most proud of is the the number of students who have said that they didn’t care much for the subject of history until my class. I consider myself very lucky to have found a profession that allows me to spend time studying my passion, which is American history, as well as working with energetic and curious young adults. I have complete freedom to shape my courses , including electives, and I am encouraged to take chances in developing curriculum. On most mornings I wake up bright-eyed and anticipating a fun day. What I love most is the sense of possibility that the classroom offers and a chance to learn something new during the course of the day. I work with an incredibly talented and caring faculty and while I rarely get to see how students turn out I know I’ve made a difference for many over the years. How many people can truly admit to this?
I also don’t mind admitting that I enjoy my summers and other vacations. No doubt the time off makes it possible for me to engage in research and other writing projects – most of which would take a backseat in lieu of a full-time position. My graduate degree in history from the University of Richmond was paid for entirely by my school and the administration continues to encourage me to attend conferences and other academic functions. In many ways I lead a life not much different from a college professor. All I need is a sabbatical and I am good to go.
In the end I still absolutely love the classroom and so that is where I want to be for the near future. The nice thing about my situation is that I can continue to reach out in ways that this job opportunity offered and not have to sacrifice what I value. Hey, my choice also means I will continue to have time to blog, which I know is a horrifying thought for some. I am truly a lucky guy.