My first dream job was my very first job when I was still in high school: working at a bookstore. It was a mall bookstore, small, full of flashy commercial titles, popular series, and the occasional serendipitous discovery. I still remember the day I plucked Kendall Hailey’s The Day I Became an Autodidact from the Self-Help section as I was straightening shelves. The title included a word I’d only just learned the week before. I examined the cover, confirmed that it was inaccurately shelved, and set it aside to move to Biography. As I walked to the Biography section later, I opened to the first page and began reading. The book never made it to the shelf, because like so many other books, it came home with me. Employees were allowed to use the bookstore as a personal library as long as copies returned in pristine condition. Maybe The Day I Became an Autodidact first went home with me as a borrowed book. But then I used my employee discount to buy it because it had to be mine forever.
My second Dream Job was after I finished graduate school. I had decided academia was not for me, but I did like teaching. I thought I might do a bit more of it while I figured out what I really intended to do with my life. During the time that, emboldened by Kendall Hailey, I myself had been autodidacting between high school and college, I’d read a book about interesting volunteer opportunities, and a volunteer teaching position on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation had stuck in my mind. I no longer wanted to volunteer teach, but when I was distracting myself one day from my dissertation writing by searching online for literally everything I’d ever known or thought, I saw that the school in South Dakota had a permanent English teaching position open. South Dakota sounded like an adventure, and I decided to apply. And that’s how I ended up moving from New Hampshire to South Dakota and accidentally stumbling into the best job ever.
I discovered the existence of Dream Job #3 when I was assigned a student teacher to mentor. Her supervising teacher from the local college came to observe her several times, and we had wonderful conversations about teaching. I had no idea that teacher education was even a thing. It seemed like the best of all possible worlds–the good parts of academia (the schedule, the autonomy and intellectual freedom, the requirement to read and research and think) without the bad parts (writing about things that don’t matter to audiences of three people, all of whom are eager to eviscerate your thinking to bolster their own reputation). I remember thinking wistfully, it’s too bad I won’t ever get to have that job. Then two years later, the supervising teacher quit, I applied for her position, and I was hired.
After twelve years as a teacher educator, I am ready for a change. And that’s where Dream Job #4 comes in. I’ll be returning to high school teaching at an urban high school in Detroit. I guess I can’t say for sure that this is Dream Job #4, because it hasn’t started yet. But on paper at least, it’s everything I would want in a dream job.
I still have one other book that I bought when I worked at Dream Job #1. I’ve never thought it was as formative or life-changing as The Day I Became an Autodidact, but somehow its title always gives me courage to leap whenever I’m contemplating a big life change. Perri Klass’s collection of short stories, I Am Having an Adventure. And Dream Job #4 and moving to Detroit will certainly be that.