As a teen, if anyone had told me that I would one day write for teens, I would have laughed and thought them naive. As a small child I would write and illustrate stories in a notebook, and perhaps I fantasized about becoming a writer, but I mostly recall wanting to be a teacher.
I hear that a lot of kids say they want to be a teacher, and it's not surprising. Most young children don't know many professions, but they interact with teachers every day. As a child I recall playing school and forcing my siblings to be my students. My Barbie dolls were teachers by trade, and I had a classroom play set for them. I also had a collection of notebooks that I pretended were grade books, and I practiced my teacher voice often. Even though I didn't have a Latina teacher until sixth grade, it seemed entirely possible that I could be a teacher. It did not seem so for becoming an author.
I went to a tiny private school with only 5 classrooms for kindergarten through eighth grade, and each teacher taught two grade levels in one classroom, so I got the same teacher for two years. I lucked out in third and forth grade. My teacher for those two years made me feel loved and cared for as a student. Her enthusiasm and energy cemented my love of learning. Her classroom was bright and colorful. I looked forward to being there every day. She gave us weekly progress reports so we always knew where we stood. Although we had lots of homework and tests, she handed back graded work in a timely fashion, which had to be a lot of work keeping up with assignments from two grades at once. She was kind and understanding, even though she must have felt out of her element teaching at a predominantly Latino and black inner-city school her first years out of a mostly white college. Also, she was the first Canadian I had ever met, and I was always amazed at how "American" she was.
With an example like that, never in a million years would I have imagined myself getting a degree in marketing and entering Corporate America. To have lasted ten years was quite a feat. When I think about the days of wanting to emulate my teachers, it isn't all that surprising that I eventually gravitated towards non-profit work. It allows me to mirror their willingness to help that was so impressionable, and fulfills me more than contributing to the bottom line ever did.
Yet, I still have days when I ask myself what I want to be when I grow up. It still feels far-fetched to say that I want to be a writer. While I love it. it is a very solitary profession and I enjoy interaction with others. It is also frustrating work filled with writer's block, plots that elude me, characters that fall flat, stretches of time when I don't feel the least bit creative, and lots of rejection. The publishing industry is overwhelmingly white, as are the protagonists most of the public is used to learning about, which makes me feel like an outcast who has to prove that my stories are worth the investment. It can be draining and exhausting, even if the only movements are from my fingers and eyeballs.
While I am optimistic that I will be published and that publishing as a whole will change, I still don't know if writing is enough for me. There is still a part of me wondering if I am answering my calling. I enjoy speaking in front of audiences and working with youth in a more active way than just writing for them, but I no longer feel led to teaching. Mad props to teachers all over the world, because loving to work with kids all day eludes me. I love academia, even as I read and hear about the politics, and the red tape many professors face. There's politics, glass ceilings and other ailments in all professions. I have battled it since I entered the work force so it doesn't deter me from envisioning myself on a college campus, passing on what I know about writing to aspiring writers, or running writing workshops. These thoughts take me back to that desire to be a teacher. Is that where my absolute passion will lie? Who knows. Perhaps one day my career will come full circle and reveal that mystery. Then I can stop wondering what I'm going to be when I grow up.
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