Why I Do It: My Journey to Instructor and What Keeps Me Going

Today's Learner - Why We Do It
Teaching Inspiration/Passion, Why We Do It
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Janet Mizrahi is a Continuing Lecturer in the UCSB Writing Program, where she has taught journalism, science writing, and business/professional writing since 1999. She also blogs for BizComBuzz.

Exactly 29 years after beginning my undergraduate career, I was thrilled to walk onto the University of California, Santa Barbara campus as an instructor. But I wasn’t just looking forward to teaching  bright undergraduates; I also felt a twinge of self-satisfied irony.

Prior to my start at UCSB, I had given up my dream of becoming an English professor when I learned that my graduate program at University of California, Los Angeles would not accept Spanish as one of two mastered languages needed to qualify for a PhD.

Disgusted by the bigoted policy—I’d read Don Quixote in the original and was fluent in the lyrical language—I instead pursued a career as a writer. It was that experience in the workplace that actually landed me the teaching position in UCSB’s Writing Program.

Twenty years later, as I plan for retirement, I can say that being a university instructor has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.

Reflecting on a Fulfilling Career in Higher Education

Starting to teach in mid-life after working outside of academia gave me a different perspective. I believed then, and still do now, that passing along my knowledge as a professional writer could help my students be better prepared for their careers—a feeling that fueled my love of my job.

But I quickly found that I was a natural in the classroom. I just knew what to say. I knew how to act. I knew how to scaffold assignments. And I knew how to inspire because I was a believer in not only the power of education, but in the power of being able to make words say what the writer means to say.

Of course, I had a steep learning curve trying to fit into a Division I research Institution. But I lucked into a great group of colleagues and a department that is truly collegial.

I’ve experienced nothing but support as I’ve created six new writing courses, presented at many conferences and written three books. As a union-represented lecturer, I work under a strong contract that has protected me from being taken advantage of, unlike so many college instructors, who, like me, live low on the academic totem pole. The job security I enjoy has helped make coming to work a joy.

Driving onto one of two U.S. campuses on a beach hasn’t hurt, either.

Nevertheless, I know my time at UCSB is drawing to a close. I don’t feel the same level of kinship with my students as I once did, and I admit the endless grading of undergraduate writing causes a constant black cloud of disenchantment to hover around me.

Still, I know I’ve made a difference in thousands of students’ lives, and that is what has kept me going. It is also what will make it okay to for me leave.


Want to hear more from Janet? Read her other posts on Today’s Learner.