What is your current occupation? Where are you located?
I’m currently a 10th Grade English teacher at a small, public high school in Brooklyn. I’ve been at that school for almost six years now. Until the beginning of this year, I lived in Brooklyn, but I recently moved to Jersey City, where my wife and I got an apartment. Having the space to do something other than sit on our couch or bump into each other has been a very nice change.
Since you’ve made some transitions in your career over the years, could you speak to these changes and what led you to them?
When I graduated, I only knew I wanted to be around people who liked reading and everything that attends it, so I worked as an intern at two literary presses in New York (Farrar, Straus & Giroux and New Directions). After that, I got a full-time job as an Editorial Assistant at an academic press called Routledge, where I helped the philosophy editor commission books on everything from Pagan sexualities, to medical ethics, to political philosophy. All told, I spent about three years in book publishing, and I’m grateful for that time: I met my wife there, made great friends, and spent my time talking about books with very bright people whose mental inventories of great reads far exceeded my own; everybody was recommending some new thing to everyone else, and it was invigorating. I read a ton. It was fun. But I’m also sort of fidgety, and I like to have a lot going on at once, so I started to get nervous about working at a desk. I wasn’t good at it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with desk work, I’m just kind of an antsy spaz in that sort of work environment. Through a fellow Trinity alum (Jake Prosnit), I found out about The New York City Teaching Fellows, a program that would pay for most of an Education Masters degree and place me in a public school in the city. That sounded about right, so I gave it a shot, and thankfully I wound up at a great school with very smart and kind colleagues, doing a job that I now love. The work is exhausting and sometimes incredibly frustrating, it takes up a lot of time and energy, and doing the Masters degree while learning to teach was a little insane, but I’ve grown used to the demands of the work by now. And the payoff—seeing kids head off to college, building meaningful relationships with young, hilarious people—is pretty huge.
What are you most proud of in the work that you do?
I’m most proud when kids are excited to learn what I’m trying to teach them. You can tell, and it feels great. And, in general, it’s nice to be able to say that I’m part of so many other people’s lives in what is hopefully at least a minimally positive way: I get to teach the kids stuff, and that’s pretty cool.
How do you think being an English major prepared you for the work you do now?
[The English] department’s professors are my models of good teaching. At Trinity, I learned from experience how fun it can be for a student to be taught by a teacher who’s genuinely enthusiastic about the material they’re teaching and about the work of being a teacher. I try to carry that enthusiasm into my own work every day. When I think of what this enthusiasm should look like, I think of Professor Rosen saying how grateful he was that Joyce had written what he had, and how his lectures were explanations of what made the readings he’d assigned so good, so worthy of our appreciation and so capable of giving real pleasure to us, the lucky readers. I think of Professor Hager telling my Melville class about how he’d once stayed up all night plowing through Melville’s Pierre in college, and I think of how he made studying English feel so important, so connected to being a critically aware and open-minded person. I also think of Professor Fisher devoting a lecture to a gloss of the word “cosyning” in Chaucer and showing us how seriously fun that was to think about; to listen to her riff on word choices and meanings was a kind of thrill because you knew she was so in love with what she was talking about. Or I think of Professor Goldman describing to my “Not Realism” class the visceral experiences he’d had while reading what he’d assigned to us; I’ll never forget hearing him describe how it felt for him to read Borges or Bolano or O’Brien—his enthusiasm wasn’t just infectious, it was instructive and exciting. There are so many more examples.
Studying English at Trinity convinced me that reading and writing is serious business, and the experience inculcated in me a love for thinking and ideas. I wouldn’t be much of a teacher if I didn’t believe in all that.
If you could give one piece of professional advice to current English Majors at Trinity, what would that be?
I’m still fairly new to being professional, so this could be terrible advice, but here we go: be cautious of how you interpret those “work-life” balance advice columns. When I was considering leaving publishing, I had a conversation with a good friend who disabused me of my belief that I could simply lodge an interior barrier between work and life, and I’m glad that he did. I told him I figured I could maybe go ahead and take a job that paid more, even if it was an obviously boring and pointless job, and then I’d live my “real life” after work and on the weekends. Easy! Thankfully, he told me I was wrong and pointed out certain facts about jobs, including how many hours of our lives we spend at work. I chose teaching over the less immediately interesting, but probably much less stressful and time-consuming, choices.
The “work-life balance” advice writing isn’t totally wrong: stay sane and happy when work becomes too much by realizing it isn’t everything; don’t forget that your family exists; don’t let your boss abuse you; etc. But the idea that our working selves and our living selves are wholly separable is a little hard for me to believe. Nothing is “just a job”. If you’re like me (and like most people I know), your work and your life will mingle and complicate each other, because your job will influence the friends you make, change how you see the world in small and big ways, and become integral to how you explain your role in the world to yourself and to other people. Don’t expect to fall madly in love with what you do—there’s much better and more interesting stuff to love about life than work; everyone knows that—but at least don’t do something that will bore you to death or warp you into a lesser person than you’d otherwise be able to be. Work won’t be a blast, but it doesn’t have to destroy you, and there are some jobs you simply can’t recover from at the end of the day.
You have two hours to spend here at Trinity (we’ve beamed you in using special technology) — how are you going to spend your time?
I think I’d be happy just to walk around and stop by all the places that meant so much to me. I’d poke around the library, maybe visit the carrell where I wrote my thesis; go to Peter B’s to sit for a bit; visit The Mill; stop by the English department to say hi to everyone and give them a proper thank you; walk up and down Vernon.
The best thing about Trinity was that I always had so much to do that it was hard to pick one thing, so maybe I’d spend most of the two hours trying to decide what I wanted to do.