Gatsby failed me once again today. In high school, when the novel by Fitzgerald first fell into my hands, I only read one page and proceeded to rely on Cliffnotes for the rest of the book. It was the only book I could not read in my life. How could a biracial boy from Bangor’s lower middle class relate to these white snobs at all? Ironically, I’m actually finishing up a unit on Gatsby with my student teaching and am somewhat enjoying this novel…although the ambiguity Fitzgerald imbues in this work aggravates my students and has begun to aggravate me as well.
Well, the novel brought me even more frustration and ire today as I sat down for 255 minutes to take the dreaded English MTEL. As a student, standardized testing was my Achilles’ heel; I was awful at it then and still embarrassingly struggle with it now. But, writing has always been my forte. So, I banked on the two writing questions to carry me through the exam.
Halfway through the test, I felt defeated. I had no clue what certain literary devices became prominent in what time periods, or why certain authors used various structures to convey themes, or what the hell the Great Vowel Case was (apparently this was a thing?!) To brighten my spirit, I fast-forwarded to a section I’d know I kill: writing. Since we have just finished Gatsby in my class, I figured I’d use this as my novel for the open-ended question. Gatsby would be perfect, just like he always longed to be; the novel has murder, mystery, ambiguity, intrigue, history, unreliable narration, great characters, plot, dreams, American ideals, etc.
But there is ONE theme that Gatsby does not have, and this theme was what I needed to write on. Of course. (I can’t say thanks to MTEL confidentiality)
So curse you Gatsby! I finally opened my heart and mind and arms to you and you manage to bring me no success, no happiness, nothing. I managed to whip up some essay about a novel I read 13 years ago, so hopefully I pass.
But in that moment, I felt an eerie similarity with Jay Gatsby. All my life I had wanted to be a teacher. I tried my hand at medicine, law, history, and many more, but always found myself back at education. Hell, I went to one of the best schools in the nation even though it didn’t have an education major or any relevant education-aimed courses yet I could never shake my passion for teaching.
What scares me though is that I’ll end up like Gatsby and completely miss the obvious signs whacking me over the head trying to turn me around. It seems that these signs have popped up everywhere for me in the last week, culminating with my deplorable performance on this exam (I honestly don’t see how knowing or not knowing what the Great Vowel Case is makes me a prepared teacher. Seriously.) It feels as though life doesn’t want to me to go into education.
Now, I don’t want this to bring about claims of, “But you’ll be fine! I’m sure you did well! Don’t listen to people, believe in yourself” chicken soup for the soul kind of things (I appreciate them! I really do) but this week has been so tough and hurtful that I don’t know if I can jump on board this optimistic band wagon. I’ve found unbelievable support from new friends that I could never have imagined, but this exam drained me of everything and has called into question my profession.
I’m sure it doesn’t help that today was “Match Day” for many of my pre-med friends who inundated my Facebook wall with their new placements (Yale, Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Penn, UCLA, etc.) I’m happy for them, but I also envy them. I know I can’t teach for 40 years because I epitomize the commitment-phobe; but looking at these friends who have let their passion for their job literally lead them around the world, uprooting themselves from place to place to work makes me jealous. Jealous, jealous, jealous. And here I am, diving into debt, trying to be a teacher, struggling to sign all the paperwork (on time), striving to learn from the best…and all I felt at the end of this exam was disbelief in myself, questioning my motives and dreams, and longing for the simplicity of life in Korea.
Overall, I’m fine. It just frustrates me how many loops I have to jump through to achieve this next step in my life. I never thought or said it would be easy, but I didn’t expect it to be this tough (Coldplay’s good for something!). And to think that these dream to teach, which has kept me going through so much (especially in these last 7 days), could float away because Gatsby failed me (or because of that F%#!*^& Great Vowel Case).