Why I left marketing

When I tell people I left marketing to become a teacher, the most frequent response I get is “why”?

Okay, that’s wishful thinking. I usually get a “Good for you,” or “That will be so rewarding.” At first, I just assumed all of these people thought I couldn’t make a living because I was so bad at marketing. Then I realized that this was just their way of politely saying they didn’t really care.

I get it. I probably wouldn’t care either. But since you actually clicked the link and got to this site, I’m hoping you do (or maybe you’re just here for the trainwreck you think I’ll turn everything into?), so I’ll tell you why.

I left marketing cuz I was a shitty marketer. K, maybe not shitty, but I wasn’t anything more than “Good” or “Average,” regardless of what my paychecks said. Maybe I was decent, but deep down, my heart just wasn’t in it. I was only there for the writing.

I loved publishing, planning magazines and newspapers, and even small-time newsletters, which is what I did before the market dried up in 2009 or 2010 and someone decided I’d be perfect for marketing, which was how I miserably made my career for a decade before becoming a writer. Once most magazines went under, I was left with marketing. More specifically, I was left with “content marketing,” which wasn’t for me.

In marketing, I reallly only liked the meaty assignments, the ones that weren’t really marketing at all but were intended to help a customer or client learn and go deeper with a product or subject. These became marketing campaigns only when a company was desperate. “Where can we move the needle?” I was sure this was what they asked as they dusted off their virtual Rolodex and landed on my number. Except those assignments rarely came through. No great marketer ever hung their hats on making more from the same customers they already had. That wasn’t hot or sexy.

Real marketers — people who were good at their jobs (and there are some amazing marketers out there) — wanted me to do stuff that would directly result in customer growth and revenue. A tone of it. That didn’t really jibe with my interests. So between hating marketing (which may have also been precipitated by me working for a boss who was a lyin’-ass, micromanaging a-hole, and then jointing a super-small startup agency that never really went anywhere in its one-year existence before going under) and not finding anything emotionally satisfying in my work, I left.

Honestly there are people who love writing content and are probably great at it or at least patient enough to check their give a damn at the door, but I wasn’t one of them. I was too emotionally involved to write one more blog post where I pretended to be an old white guy or another infographic that showed the immeasurable value of a cheaply made widget that no one really needed anyway. I left.

I still do a little marketing as a side hustle (which is why I use terms like “side hustle,” no doubt), but unless I really know (and adore) the client, most projects I’m willing to take on need to be focused on educating a customer or prospect. I don’t write SEO copy — I hate it and I charge too much for most businesses to even consider asking. I jumped at a GDPR info piece a few years ago, however, because it gave me a chance to learn something I was unfamiliar with. That’s how I see marketing now: what do I get out of it beyond a check (which is always appreciated but not always enough to stay motivated)? If the payoff is good, I’m in.

Incidentally, I start year two of my teaching career next week. Year one was a shit show. Who knows what this one will be. Sometimes the classroom makes me long for marketing, where I knew what I was doing. But not really.

How I learned to loathe marketing and love the classroom?

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.

Alexa, is Dennis Franz still alive?

I asked Alexa tonight if Dennis Franz is still alive. She didn’t say “yes,” or rattle off some birth stats that she “found on the web.” Her response was more direct: “Dennis Franz is still alive.” No justification, no reason, just a confirmation that I was on the right track.

Yes, Alexa has a stock answer for the question, “Is Dennis Franz still alive,” which makes me wonder how many other people are asking the same thing. Does she have one for Telly Savalas, Bob Dole, Tammy Faye Baker? Or is it just Dennis Franz?

Day 57 (I think) — Tuesday

I keep seeing my 8th grade self in the 127 students I taught this year. I’m the one over there that’s not rocking the boat. Without the nerve or need to ask for clarification, who simply knows what I have to do. I’m the suck up, unintentionally, of course, the kind who knows that that I need to get this stuff right the first time or face whatever mockery or belittlement would be dished out otherwise. Oh, or the disappointment my failure would bring too someone somewhere. I’m the one who doesn’t like the attention — definitely not negative attention and surely not positive attention that I lobby for myself. Honestly, I’m only worthwhile by being perfect.

This tendency to overdo, overperfect, and undercelebrate me never actually leaves, and anytime I see it in a student, I want to stop them, tell them to fail, tell them to try something that’s hard. Not math-problem hard. Those weren’t actually hard. I mean put-yourself-out-there-and-risk-fucking-up hard.

But I never do. Even now, I can’t be the change that I really ought to be, the one that makes a difference. By all accounts, I have everything it takes — except courage.

So I stay very tight lipped. I don’t tell anyone anything until I know th answer and have somehow found a way to control the message. That’s how I stay in charge. Always.

This, incidentally, makes me a master at handling stress. Like when my mentor emails to ask if I’ve applied for jobs, which I should have but haven’t. I hear myself telling her, “I’ve had a few more important things on my mind. You know, dying cat, dying sister, this class that I’m teaching that I know I’m fucking up, and the other one I was saddled with, too. O, yeah, and making ends meet on a lousy $19k intern pay. “ I hear myself saying this and know that it’s honest, gritty, transparent, vulnerable, exactly what I should say to be human.

But I don’t say it. In fact, I say nothing. I just ignore her message and keep all of this tamped down hard. Brick hard. Starbucks baristas got nothing on my tamping skills. Healthy. Keep those emotions hidden from view. Nothing ventured, nothing lost, right?

Turn it off, like a mother-fucking light switch.

Day 48 – Sunday

I start hiding the tahini bread from the children after I see my son take a slice that’s well over two inches thick from an 8×4 loaf pan. I would understand if it were a 12×4 loaf pan but this clearly isn’t. And it’s delicious. The tahini bread, which tastes like halva humped a pound cake, is mine. He can have the Cinnamon Toast Crunch (but not the Nutella — that’s also mine).

Looking back at previous posts, I realize my dates for posts are either entirely bullshit or time actually has ceased to move forward and I really did only advance 4 days during the past week. I honestly don’t know which is more true.

More treats to hide.

Day 44 – Monday

We’re low on beer. Dangerously low. All that remains is some shitty low alcohol stuff left over from before last November’s switch to 5% grocery store beer, and the insanely strong stuff that I reserve for weekends-only.

We have wine, but it triggers my allergies, which are already getting bad, and I don’t know why. I blame this one really bad cat — one of the five who lives in our house. She sleeps on my side of the bed all day and is likely intentionally making me sneeze. Anyway, I swear off wine from about April through June to keep my eyes from watering so much and so I can taste something, anything. It sucks. I have good wine that needs me to drink it.

We stocked up on beer, whiskey, and everything else on day 1, one of the last times we left the house for anything other than a run. Actually, I didn’t go. My husband was more than willing to sacrifice himself for booze. He’s a good man.

We had an obscene amount of beer when all of this started. The garage Kelvinator was full. It had beers stored on top of it. Now it’s sad.

Teachers shouldn’t run out of booze. Ever.

I drink about one beer a day. I can’t say how much my spouse drinks. Probably a whole lot more. I’m pretty jealous.

Sometimes the wine on the counter or the grappa — I am one-quarter Italian — calls me early in the morning, before a Zoom meeting. I tell it to shut up. Summer will be here soon enough, but, you know, I won’t heed it’s call then either.

The grappa bottle in question is dressed like Santa Claus. Usually he’s naked, but someone has put his full coat back on him. It’s cold in our house so I understand.

We keep saying we’re going to the liquor store for real beer, but I know we’re both chicken. Is hooch worth the Covid? Utah won’t sell to-go beer and grocery and liquor stores make you walk inside to buy it. Is it worth the risk? Probably. I’m guessing we’ll find out which wins — sanity or health — in the next few days. My money is on sanity.

Day 42 – Saturday

I find out that my sister has cancer. Great. I’m not really processing it.

I look it up after hanging up the phone. Calls are weird. I text whenever possible but there are obviously times for exceptions. I couldn’t find anything on the type of cancer she has. It doesn’t exist. This would be wonderful if she were a pathological liar or a hypochondriac, but she’s not.

I found another cancer with a similar name. She texted the name to me before she called. Did My guess is that in her haste or the doctor’s she wrote her cancer down wrong. Or maybe Apple changed it for her. Long story.

I hope I’m wrong. The cancer that I found with a very similar name is rare, hard to detect until it’s almost too late, and has a low 5-year survival rate.

It all feels very clinical to me now. That could go on for a long time. I didn’t really process my dad’s cancer maybe for a few years after he was gone. It was HIS cancer. This is HER cancer.

Why is cancer possessive?

When Kenny Rogers died

Somehow, Kenny Rogers’ death turns into two hours of me regaling my family about 1970s variety shows. The conversation, which is likely just me monologuing, moves from Kenny Rogers to Glen Campbell to John Denver, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, and finally Stiller and Meara, who are by far the most memorable of the bunch but, looking at the list, the odd men out.

There’s a point where I question whether my brain is strong enough to remember the names of Steve and Edie — I see flashes of them in my mind, Steve Lawrence’s buttoned-too-low shirt, the highlights in his perfectly 1970s-coiffed hair, how I was always sure he was best buds with Frank Sinatra, although I have no idea why. Edie was one of my mom’s favorite, I think, or maybe I’m confusing her with Robert Goulet. Their names seemed so similar when I was a kid.

I can’t actually come up with Steve Lawrence’s name. I push myself incredibly hard and somehow squeeze Edie Gourme’s name from my grey matter, but for some reason, I wrongly want to connect her to Sinatra. Maybe her co-star and Frank seemed equally slimy to my eight-year-old self?

I say this aloud — “I keep linking her to Frank Sinatra, but I know it isn’t Frank Sinatra and Edie Gourme,” and I don’t want to use the internet to find out her name, although I know for a fact that I could simply type in “1970s couple variety shows,” and Steve and Edie would be near the top of the list, likely after Sonny and Cher, but maybe no one else. When I remember Edie’s name, I breathe a sigh of relief and allow myself to search, which is when I find Steve Lawrence’s name and kick myself for not figuring that one out without the electronic crutch that people like me who live for nonsense trivia have become so dependent upon.

When I mention Stiller and Meara, however, my husband, who’s nine years younger than me, can finally play along. I mean, he knows Ben Stiller’s dad, Jerry. You know, Seinfeld. For a minute, however, he thinks that Ann Meara was Ray Romano’s mom in that show, but I reminded him, no, that wasn’t the case. “No,” I say. I go through the game shows they were on, something about apples and bananas, how she was taller than Jerry, and how they were hilarious. I say out loud, “Why weren’t they my parents? I’d FaceTime them with a glass of wine right now,” bringing back a discussion we’d had a few hours earlier about how pandemics make people drink in FaceTime and may actually b we bringing families closer together … but not mine ‘cuz my mom’s a stick in the mud.

Turning back to Ann Meara, I correct him again with, “The last time I saw her was in the movie Reality Bites, when she doesn’t give Winona Ryder’s character the job and Winona chases after her trying to impress her unsuccessfully with her knowledge of words and concepts that only … an … English … major … would give a shit about.”

And then I think I’m back to me. Because I’m pretty sure by this point, I’m spouting off only information that an English major who graduated in the late 1980s would know or care about.

Nice tech, if you can get it

I worked in tech for more than a decade. Needless to say, if I had the time to automate every aspect of my life, I would. Smart lights? Check. Refrigerators that order milk for me when I get low? Check. An entire house that changes its ambience when I say the magic word? Check. Honestly, I have plenty to do — if there’s a tool that can do some of it for me, I’m in.

And then there’s education. Honestly there’s so much tech in education, it could make someone’s head spin right off. In my own classroom, I use multiple tools to deliver, track, and accept assignments alone. Then there are the gamifying apps, collaboration apps, apps to make writers pretend to know how to draw. There are the apps to check your grammar and word count (ideal for students who never bothered to see that these are built into Google Docs), apps to keep you scheduled, apps to find out if you plagiarized. You name it, education has an app for that.

What there isn’t is consistency, which becomes a problem for students and teachers alike. See, I want to try all of these tools. On the occasion that I have a chance to use a tool,  I need it to work the whole time and the first time, so I give myself a one-strike policy: if I can’t make it work as planned ASAP, then I dump it. Ain’t no one got time for that.

So, back to my school — the autonomy is great. The lack of tech tools, however,  is sort of a nightmare. And we’re not alone. In most schools, there are no offcially endorsed tech tools — teachers can pick what works for them. Autonomy for all (is that a thing?)! But no one has time to see which tech they might want to use, offer guidance or suggestions to each other or their coworkers. So we’re back to square one. The students, BTW, are just as confused.

I’m writing all of this because tonight, Canvas, decided to stop talking to PowerSchool. I’ve received countless emails from students about their grades — emails from student who were hoping their updated would chance their grades because, well, holidays are coming and no one wants to feel the wrath of an angry parent who happened to see that slacker son and/or daughter didn’t do the work. I, however, can’t fix this right now. I always want to help my students but sometimes I can’t.

I’m thrilled that my students are finally taking responsibility for their grades. It’s part of why I still dedicate time to reminding students to check their grades daily and build it into a Powerpoint that I frequently want to stop creating but the students are so used to seeing that they can’t start class without it. These are elements I’ve been trying to get them to adopt and understand since day 1. I’m just bummed that they seemed to have picked a bum night for it.

Should teachers be jacks of all trades?

My English 8 students are working on a writing unit right now. Okay, I’m working on a writing unit and honestly my outlook is far more relaxed and better because it’s writing rather than reading.

I’m going into teaching for the writing — I’m a writer, I love writing, and I want other people to understand that writing is essential, easy, and nothing to be feared. Reading? Yeah, we all need to do it but there are people better than me out there to teach the students the ins and outs of reading and build excitement around it.

Which brings me to this: our first education reform should be to encourage specialization. I’m in a tiny school — one teacher per subject per grade (and then we need to teach something else, too, to fill in the gaps) — but I’d gladly teach 6th, 7th, and 8th grade writing if someone else handled the reading. We could collaborate and SHOULD collaborate on what writing/reading we’d each teach, but students and teachers would probably all be happier and more confident if we approached teaching this way. I’d likely need to grade more, but that’s okay. That’s how I learn what needs to be taught and how to teach it.

I’ve talked to other teachers, particularly science, who would agree. Most science teachers I know have a true love for some aspect of their curriculum, but not all of it. They had to pick up the rest of the info along the way. Letting a bio teacher specialize in genetics while another teacher specializes in anatomy (no, I don’t know exactly what’s in the core) would make everyone, including the student, more engaged because we’d all be sharing the thing that brought us to teaching. English teachers, too, have a preference. Most of the ones I went to school with dreaded the writing units. They were readers, lovers of literature. Why shouldn’t they be encouraged to stay that way?

Our current system encourages teachers to be jacks of all trades, but that often puts us in the category of master of none. If we fix the system, I’m pretty sure everyone would fare better.