It’s been a weird year. Maybe not for the reasons that you’re already thinking, including racial reckoning, which is long overdue, and COVID-19’s divisive and ever-present annoyance. My year was weird because it was my first year in a new job — as a public school teacher.
Teaching wasn’t what I studied in college decades ago as an undergrad or grad student, not what I had ever really intended to do, although it was always in the back of my mind that I’d somehow find a way to end my professional career in a classroom full of teenagers who really wanted to learn how cool math was from me.
Anyway, I didn’t teach math. I taught English, which was my least favorite subject other than PE in school. Granted, I kind of hated history, too. The teenager part was a bit of a stretch, since this was 8th grade, which is just the start of the teens, but that’s really not the point.
The point is I made it through the first year, signed up for a second, and now need to figure out if I’m making any sort of difference, how, and why.
How I learned to loathe marketing…
I’m writing this as I see the barrage of Black lives matter marketing emails hit my inbox and the social channels that I finally have time to look at. I’m positive that a number of these companies are practicing what they’re preaching and others will begin initiatives to make changes, although at 54 years old, I have to wonder why they’re just starting to pay attention now. This includes all of the 99% white companies I worked for that were housed in office parks on very white sides of town and with no pigment at all in their “corporate leadership” profiles. I’m not calling anyone a hypocrite tho. Things change, companies change, right?
Okay, this is the kind of skepticism that made me a terrible marketer, which is where I was before moving into education, even if I was actually kind of successful in the field. At least my paychecks said I was successful. My attitude, however, didn’t. The higher I climbed the corporate ladder, the lower my opinion became of my own contribution to the profession. I just wasn’t feeling it.
I worked mostly on the B2B side of marketing because, you guess it, that’s where the money is/was. Selling widgets and services to companies that really needed neither. Toward the end of my marketing run, I oversaw content marketing teams — that ugly intersection of journalism and marketing that’s really little more than throwing words at prospective customers to try to convince them that you’re empowering people to make smart decisions. You aren’t. You’re empowering a long-form commercial that says how freakin’ amazing you are.
Yeah, I’m biased. Actually, content marketing doesn’t need to be the dreadful beast it became to me. It should be the “news” and education side of corporate messaging. On the surface, this sounds great. You arm consumers with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions on their own. You build trust in your brand because you’re completely transparent. You help consumers by showing your strengths, your weaknesses, your beauty marks, and your warts. You, the company, are a rockstar. Your customer is in complete control.
Sadly, that’s not really how content marketing plays out these days (there are exceptions, I’m sure). My experience is that content marketing is used primarily as a means of building a false corporate image that pretends to respect the consumer, while its true goal is to convince Google’s algorithms that its message is valuable enough to be on page one of that customer’s search results. (Oh, the stories I could tell about heads of marketing teams and budgets and the ways they were gaming the system!) If a company really wanted to empower its prospective customers with info that could be used to make decisions, it would never use the term “content marketing.” The company would opt for a more straightforward term like “education.”
I should have seen the writing on the wall …
… and love the classroom
That subhead, btw, is a lie. I’m not sure I actually love the classroom, but I’m getting ahead of myself and thinking about concepts I’ve not really considered yet.
Regardless, I hated being in marketing. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t the corporate cheerleader that these companies needed. I saw through the glossy coat and focused more on the tics that were festering on the underbelly. I was collecting a paycheck. A big paycheck.
Then 2016 happened. I know, another 50+YO woman who still can’t get past the 2016 election. Didn’t realize that this would devolve into another Trump-is-to-blame or What’s-wrong-with-you post, eh?
So, it took me a while to accept that there was something pervasively wrong with our society. For a little while in November 2016, I listened to Alex Jones to find out what the hell people were thinking. I talked to my mom — a Trump cheerleader — only to realize she wasn’t thinking for herself and then wondered why I thought she would since she had let other people make decisions for her for most of her life. I watched and rewatched the episode of Samantha Bee (Full Frontal), when she spoke with people in Pennsylvania about electing a woman as president and the women she talked to said stupid shit like women couldn’t lead, were too emotional. WTF? Really, WTF? I talked to my son, who was 15 at the time, about people like Paul Joseph Watson and some other whackasses who were targeting young white males on video game messaging sites, presumably in preparation for 2020, 2024, and beyond.
Anyway, beyond the rhetoric, November 2016 showed me just how short life is and that I really really didn’t need to be wasting my time selling widgets when I gave less than half a shit whether any business needed those widgets. I wanted to shake some sense into people, but in a non-violent way. I think I finally snapped the day my then-boss told me that voting for Trump didn’t make him racist and that people should stop saying that. True, it didn’t make him a racist; it more likely reflected the racism that was in him all along. BTW, my dumbfounded look also prompted him to share info a buddy of his had forwarded him about Hillary Clinton laughing at her success in helping a child rapist escape jail time (“She laughed about it!” he lamented. “Um, no, that’s a doctored video,” I said…) and the fact that democrats were funding the Evan McMullen campaign (“Really? I don’t remember hearing that …” I said.). I think pizzagate came up, too.
Virtually every bullshit lie I heard, I researched and realized was spread simply because people had stopped thinking for themselves. Frequently, I did a quick search and found the facts associated with with each scenario ASAP. Did no one question anything before? I mean, people actually listened to Alex Jones (did you know that liberals take babies from backyards and suck the souls from them before returning said babies?) and not for the entertainment value because hours of listening to his bloated gut barf out nonsense was anything but entertaining. My mom, boss, and those women in Pennsylvania had all checked their common sense at the voting booth, too. The more I looked around, the more I realized that there were lazy people on all sides who just wanted to read headlines or have someone digest information for them so they could get back to watching reruns of Friends on Netflix. WTF was I or anyone supposed to do?
I made it my mission to change this, which brought me to my next problem — how?
I stewed on it for nearly two years because there are some things you shouldn’t just jump into. I mean that was my whole premise here, right? I batted around the idea of finally going to law school so I could become a civil rights attorney. But would that change the way people thought? I considered getting my Ph.D. in rhetoric so I could deconstruct messaging for the masses and show everyone they had been hoodwinked, but no one wants to listen to an overeducated blowhard, which I’m positive I would be. Finally, I settled on the most humble of all options — teaching. I mean, at the time, I was pretty sure that the country and earth would be around for a while and that maybe as a teacher, I could at least convince a few hundred minds each year that they needed to seek to find the whole truth before acting or even sharing a news story with the underling in the cube next door. Granted, that “be around for a while” is looking less and less likely right now …
I decided to become a teacher. I already had some experience teaching college English classes, so I went through an intensive year of schooling to learn to tackle education for teenagers, too. Then, I took a job as a teaching intern. Eight grade. Rural America.
Me, the first-year teacher
That’s where I am today — cleaning the last items out of the classroom where I spent my first year as a full-time teacher. I held off doing this for almost 10 days since I needed a break when school finished. Mental exhaustion. Thus far, my break has consisted of everything un-mental I could do. I made nine loaves of bread, rearranged my laundry room and my sock drawer, arranged to purchase an out-of-state camp trailer that I still need to pick up, ran 18 miles, hiked about 12, biked 41, changed a bike tire with brut strength, scrubbed a carpet that our geriatric pets continually confuses with a lawn or litter box, found a way to block access to the now-spotless carpet from the geriatric dog who started the craze, read a book about a local homeschooling-polygamist-militant family of separatists whose compound I can see from my bedroom, scrubbed some bathrooms, floors, the patio, ordered cute masks for the family to wear this summer, experimented with making vegan chorizo, scooped litter boxes, and more.
My job now is to start thinking again. Did I do anything right? Did I do everything wrong? What can I do so that we’re never in a state again where white people, 50+ years after the end of the civil rights movement, are still trying to comprehend that Black lives actually matter and that the systems we created in this nation, education included, are the biggest contributors to the attitudes that perpetuate the problem?
Stay tuned, post your comments because I’d love to hear what you have to say. And realize that now that I’ve started thinking again, I have a lot to say.