Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go back into the past and give your younger self a message?
How far back would you go and what would you say? Would you prevent a marriage or divorce? Perhaps you’d alter a career path? There’s no giving lottery results, sports scores, stock market advice or any other tips that would make you wealthy in this scenario. It has to be something deeply personal and meaningful. Maybe you could say something that would save a life or make the world a better place.
I occasionally play these mind games. Sometimes I go back to elementary school and make myself stand up to bullies. Sometimes I instill confidence in myself to be a better student. Quite often, however, I think about going back to my college days and stopping myself from getting into my first marriage, although the thought of never having my daughter in my life is usually the end game for that one. She’s worth far more to me than every ounce of pain I suffered in the divorce.
Most often I think about preventing Younger Me from getting into journalism. If I had known 35 years ago when I was heading off to college that there would be such a thing as the Internet and the devastating impact it would have on print media, I could have diverted to a much more lucrative career such as teaching.
I had a lot of friends at Adams State College who tried to convince me to become a teacher. I didn’t want to. I was always led to believe that teaching was a low-paying profession and I couldn’t see myself being confined to a classroom all day with a bunch of kids who didn’t want to be there either.
In hindsight, I can see that I would have been much better off financially had I become an educator rather than a journalist. When I started my professional newspaper career, entry-level salaries mirrored that of first-year teachers. As I earned raises and promotions, I saw my income continue to match that of new, inexperienced teachers. It stayed that way for the first several years of my career.
Then the Interweb thingy came along. Newspapers started struggling financially. Raises became fewer and smaller. It wasn’t long before entry-level teachers were making more than me – a lot more. Today it’s laughable. You will never, ever hear me champion the cause of higher salaries for teachers. It’s not that they don’t deserve it; it’s just an unreal expectation from my perspective. For me, giving a teacher a raise means I have to pay more taxes and in the process widen the income gap between me and the ones so often pitied for being in a low-paying profession.
On top of that, I don’t get the benefit of tenure or the ability to take summer breaks, Christmas breaks, and breaks for every major and minor holidays. I work year-round about 50-plus hours a week and often work weekends and holidays to cover events the teachers and their families are enjoying.
I know it sounds like I’m bitter and griping about teachers, and maybe I am. I still don’t want to do their job. I’m related to and friends with many teachers and I see a lot of what they must contend with every day that has nothing to do with teaching. I don’t envy them. I don’t doubt that there are a lot of teachers my age out there who, if they could go back in time, would divert their younger selves into other professions.
That’s sad to think of because we need to be attracting better and brighter talent into our classrooms. To do that, however, we need to fix a broken system. The way education is funded in Texas needs to change. So do the expectations that legislators force on public schools. We need to get the Legislature out of the classrooms and infuse our school districts with adequate funding. Our teachers need to be free to educate our children, not direct them down a path of passing certain tests.
Honestly, some of the best quality education my children receive comes in those few, brief weeks between STAAR testing and the end of school. That’s when they go on field trips and do a lot of the hands-on stuff that they get excited about. Just imagine what it would be like if that level of creative excitement and energy were poured into classrooms all year.
On the other hand, several teachers often slip into baby-sitting mode during that time and my kids idle the class period away watching movies and playing games. If anyone in any other profession had a drop in productivity like that, they’d be looking for another job. I’d be curious to see how much teacher performance would improve if they had the ability to earn merit raises and no longer have the protection of tenure to hide behind.
But what do I know? I’m just an over-paid, ivory tower editor on the downhill slide of an ill-chosen career path. Or am I?
I can’t begin to tell you how often friends (teachers included) say they live vicariously through my exploits on Facebook. As a journalist I get to go places, do things, and meet people that many of my friends will never get to experience. That’s been the best part of being a newspaperman all these years. I live a very surreal life. It’s all those life experiences that keep me going, not the money. Despite what is happening to the print industry, this is a very exciting time to be in journalism. Communication has never been more instant and competition tougher.
Although I have the advantages and drawbacks of being at a weekly publication, the Internet and social media have pretty much leveled the playing field. I can now get information out as quickly as daily newspapers and television stations. It just means I have to be better and faster.
So considering how much journalism has enriched my life, I don’t think I could justify going back 35 years and stopping Younger Me from earning my journalism degree. I think perhaps the best advice I could give Younger Me would be to keep exercising and to eat fewer hamburgers, pizzas, and donuts. That would definitely have a huge, positive impact on Current Me. Being in better shape and having more energy would undoubtedly make my life much better than a bigger paycheck. Of course, I wouldn’t complain about a bigger paycheck, but I’m not about to go into teaching to get one.