As far back as I know, there have been teachers in every generation of my family, often several per generation. Born into the upper classes (8th grade-level equivalency or higher), teaching is our "family business" - we're pre-school apprenticed, fated by an ancient caste-them-into-the-educational-dungeon system, forever destined to a life of demagoguery... oops, sorry, typo there - should've said pedagoguery, of course. So easy to confuse those two, isn't it? But the latter originally comes from the Latin word paedagogus, which means "slave who escorted children to school and generally supervised them." Yep, that's the one I meant.
Coming from this long line of teachers (and figuring out how, after getting all the wiggles out, to stand still on it with tippy toes tucked together), I see the world through sophist-colored spectacles. Clearly, it has influenced my perspective, encouraged a yearnin' for learnin' and modeled the value -- dare I say the nobility? -- of academic professions. But, I would probably have to conclude that the most invaluable lesson of my upbringing was learning how to live happily on a teacher's salary.
Generally, people don't claim that aspiring to make a teacher salary is setting the bar too high. In fact, they might even go so far as to question the worthiness of one's ambition, if not intellect, for choosing teaching as a vocation. Others opt to express their dismissive disdain by simply quoting that educator-beloved proverb, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." But, as one accustomed to living on a teacher's wages from the perspective of a child, a grandchild, a teenager and an adult, I am also familiar with the possibilities that exist despite the relatively 'prohibitively low salary' - not only the validation that a scholarly life is one worth living, but one that affords huge payback in terms of time off and travel options. (Yes, there's time travel, too, but that's another entry...)
There was my great grandfather, a world-renowned physicist, who traded in the rights to his many inventions for university tenure & a nicely painted portrait that hangs for perpetuity in a dank & dusty lab hallway somewhere. That seemed patently fair...
There was my grandmother who, like a Willa Cather heroine, left Nebraska at 17 to attend college in the east and then crisscrossed the country by train for graduate school in California, presiding over a one room schoolhouse back home and teaching Latin at a prestigious boys' prep school in New England. She seemed to have lived everywhere, but always in very small quarters, tiny houses which appeared to have been plucked from miniature Christmas village scenes. Or, there were the photographs of her smiling from the deck of a 15' boat with its sleeping bag-sized cabin, her stay-afloat-home for a two year, now-you-sea-me, now-you-don't, tour of the Atlantic.
There was her sister who also became an educator, first in the US and then abroad in Germany and Japan. She taught 3rd graders on American military bases and saw the world on holiday. When she finally reunited with her sisters in Nebraska, well after they had all retired, each returning from whence they came, her shelves were filled with European trinkets, Japanese folk art, textiles and fantastical carvings. When I was little, each December had delightfully arrived with Christmas advent calendars she sent from Germany. Decades later, to her great grandnieces, she delivered in person the materials used long ago in her classrooms: books filled with legends of that just peachy Little One-Inch, LPs of traditional Japanese folk music & classical compositions like Peter and the Wolf, sets of world geography flashcards that served as the girls' first introduction to Cold War-era political borders, and a collection of black & white & yellowing How and Why Wonder-full science books. And, she was the one who always had the same answer any time I expressed doubts as to what we should do for & with our kids: "TRAVEL!"
Of course, not all of the influential teachers relative to me were required to be my relatives. There was Mr Martin's syrupy sweet, yet unflappable, Jack support of a teaching-traveling lifestyle, one he insisted came full stacked with fringe benefits which over easily offset the occasional, if pressing, prioritizing dilemma created by limited income: Would you like 2 sausages - or - 2 slices of bacon with that?
There was also another of my high school teachers whose roving nature proved instructive. Initially, she checked her restless spirit by taking library science courses on the side. Understandably burnt out on American literature after marking up one-too-many The GraDes of Wrath essays, she was no doubt desirous of making that lucrative, lateral, librarian career path leap (a sure sign she was a Libris?). But, eventually, bibliotheca thrills could no longer satisfy, as her untamable soul wandered among rows of travel guides and shelved discontentment. Sure, for a while she'd been appeased by a rebellious resistance to systematic Dewey Decimal classification, but that couldn't last forever -- things were stacked against her from the start. So, she took early retirement, bought a little RV & began solo trips, making larger and larger concentric circles until she'd finally escaped Texas' gravitational pull and experienced wait-less-ness.
Later, there was a fellow English department faculty member, thirty years my senior, who every summer took her mother and rented the same quaint cottage in England. Thanks to a standing agreement with an elderly lady there, they'd upheld the tradition for nearly twenty years. It was easy to imagine my colleague & her mum sipping tea, nibbling scones and chatting with their landlady-turned-bonne amie about the noontime's light drizzle or teasing shows of sunshine... How very proper for one assigned by fate (and the scheduling committee) as a purveyor of British literature! An arrangement so thoroughly pleasing in its safety and simplicity, she returned each fall refreshed and at peace. Then, on spring breaks, she pursued her other fancy free pastime -- massive archaeology site digs. In her school marm sensible shoes, ankle-length heavy skirts and hair-pinned bun, she was the best disguised Indiana Jones I ever met. Would have given Harrison Ford a run for that crystal skull, too, I bet, if she wasn't so busy writing college recs.
And, like my grand aunt, there were a few college friends who also went the Japan route, most as English language tutors. One couple married just before embarking & thereby received the ultimate parting gift: a combination first job with international experience + a guaranteed, all-expenses-paid, year-long honeymoon an ocean away from the in-laws. Another guy, a journalism majoring single, kept renewing his annual contract because he'd become an overnight karaoke club sensation, playing sax & apparently looking just enough like Sting (requisite stringy blond hairdo) to get steady gigs. At last, vindication for marching band nerds can be found just one continent over! [Thanks to opportunities available in the wide world of teaching. Actual results may vary.]
Although I'm no longer a paid teacher (not that I haven't tried to unionize, but it's so laborious and strikes me as futile somehow), I still set our family's budget parameters by teacher salary standards. With that comes a practical and well-known comfort level, passes down my inherited values system to our daughters, and is a relatively easy way to ensure that we can continue to homeschool & travel for as long as we'd like. We're far from financially savvy - it just doesn't take much finesse to work out a budget when you adopt a going light, less-is-more philosophy.
"So, how do ya'll do it?" (This is the question we often hear, though the rhetorical subtlety of 'Well, la-di-da!' sometimes suffices.) Actually, it started when we were settling down & had no travel plans. We married and bought a very modest house, one we could afford based solely on Chris' single income (which just barely exceeded first year teacher earnings at the time) and my graduate school contribution-leeching-liability status, as assessed by the bank's loan officer. Most significantly, the monthly payments were so low that we could still cover them if - irony forewarning here - Chris ever got fired from his job for refusing to travel for work, an often contentious point with a succession of bosses who always threatened to, but never actually did, let him go. Instead of focusing on moving up (in the corporate hierarchy or to a "better" neighborhood), we put time spent together, and then time spent with our kids, ahead of getting ahead. [Plus, it turned out that we loved our little, unpretentious neighborhood, one that included a friendly mix of people and interests, a preponderance of teachers & an active contingent of watchful retirees. It's the closest one could come to living in small town, Nebraska, in a city containing 5 million people: a forgotten, six-street, "No Outlet" corner of a sprawling, post-WWII tract housing subdivision. On summer evenings, husbands met on sidewalks for rousing games of washers, wives exchanged cuttings from flower gardens, and kids ran about displaying their most impressive collections of crawdads & Texas toads, extricated from blue jeans' pockets mercifully still alive and not croaking.]
We didn't invest a lot in social standing and, likewise, we've always chosen a fairly low-key lifestyle in other ways: We drive one 10 year old car, never had cable tv, belong to only one country club (the whole country's club - we're proud, card-carrying National Parks' Pass members), don't own a boat or ATVs or jet skis, do not indulge in drinking, smoking or other egregious & costly personal habits (golfing), own few appliances & tech gadgets, don't pay private school tuition fees or purchase pre-packaged curriculum kits & courses, stopped buying furniture when our house was furnished, and don't have season tickets to sporting events, the theater, the ballet or the WWF. When we had kids, and again when the kids convinced us to become vegetarians, we also cut back on eating out and began cooking most meals at home. And, once we went to Europe and realized we could get by with carry-on-bag-sized wardrobes, we reevaluated there, too, simplifying our - and the washing machine's - clothing loads thereafter. Through it all, we discovered that remarkable inverse relationship: the more "stuff" you have, the less you can do. Fewer things = less maintenance, less cleaning, less dusting, less washing, less insurance and way less worry.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating asceticism or living too far below one's means for effect (or 'for affect'), but what we value often does not correlate to $$ spent. We're not Zen, we're just not extravagant. Plus, it frees up a lot of energy and resources that can be put toward what we do desire: globeschooling.
We are lucky that Chris' business allows him, to a large extent, to set his own schedule and have flexibility in where he works. We're also lucky we can homeschool. However, both of these were decisions we made with consequences to risk if it didn't go well and pressures that are still there even when it does. It also took us more than a decade to find a successful way to work & be together, including one year when Chris got fed up with the corporate world and joined me as a high school geometry teacher, and another, Mikaela's first, when I worked and he stayed home with our baby and his entrepreneurial dreams (voluntarily reducing us to a one-teacher-income household again). Amazingly enough, he couldn't get his start-up business going between diaper changes, two-hour-long power lunches of mashed bananas and our infant's insistence on pulling all nighters every nighter. So, we switched. Chris returned to the corporate life, waiting to try again another 4 years later.
The "jump" into globeschooling was equally daunting. Especially when it seemed that anyone doing something similar recommended a $150,000 per year minimum budget and/or had just purchased a 43' yacht - with more rooms & amenities than our house - to sail around the world in precisely 365 days. But, the idea that travel is only for the rich or privileged few is an antiquated notion (ok, maybe it was true in Antiquity, but Saint Augustine - who said "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page" - and Harley Davidson - who spoke in slightly less mufflered tones - changed all that). Yet, it's still a myth perpetuated by some in the travel industry & most of the rest of us, too: it's elusive, not for regular folks, esoteric, ethereal. Or, it's dicey, scary, dangerous, you'll definitely get lost. Certainly, you'll need a lot of help. And a chaperone. A translator. A valet. And an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you really think about it hard enough, surely you can find at least one valid reason NOT to go....
But, with Do-It-Yourself itinerary planning, you can not only get there more cheaply, you're almost guaranteed an infinitely richer experience because you thought about it, researched it, looked forward to it and invested the time - not necessarily the money or tour package "incidental costs" - to appreciate what you're gazing upon. Eventually, we figured out, there are hundreds of ways to Go West, Young Globeschoolers! And east, north and south, too. We just had to begin by finding one that didn't make us too uncomfortable or stressed out & start there. After that, it got much easier.
Surprisingly, it was at William Randolph Hearst's 'La Cuesta Encantada' that we found the culmination & confirmation of our family's guiding philosophy 'Tis better to be independently minded than independently wealthy. The in-house movie "Building the Dream" detailed the passion & impetus for Hearst's constructing a 'Castle on the Hill.' And why? Because his mom took lil' William sightseeing in Europe when he was ten years old. So taken was he with the experience that, when he inherited his father's magnate status, he told architect Julia Morgan, "Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something..." That meant the Enchanted Hill: 165 rooms & 127 acres of manicured gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Plus thousands of imported artifacts, tapestries, furnishings, fireplaces and even a complete, reassembled 15th century ceiling harvested from a Spanish convent to grace the billiards room. All in order to fulfill his fantasy of replicating medieval feudal society right there in 1920s San Simeon, California... or Palatine Bust? Now, our own kids weren't moved to do the same when they got back home from their European vacation (although we did offer them two tubs full of Legos if they wanted to give it a try), but it did make us realize that...
Just like Hearst, we tripped around Europe, if not in the same grand style (in our case, it was great grandma's style), it was nearly the same in substance. No, we did not enjoy the voyage o'er the pond like William -- from first class cabins on a luxury cruise ship that sped to the Old World in three weeks. Instead, we found a discounted flight in coach which got us there in nine & a half hours (mere seconds behind those in business class, btw). No, we didn't leave good ol' dad behind to tend the store (and gold, silver, lead & quartz mines, as well as fret over the hopelessly unprofitable San Francisco Examiner money pit), but went all together to ensure that Chris got as little work done as possible. And, no, we weren't able to devote a year and a half to our journey, but we still saw 90% of what Hearst saw during our time there. Only without staying in a swanky villa the night before, hobnobbing with our entourage, heeding propriety's sake, arriving in a timely manner appropriate to our station & getting mention in the society pages (inexplicable, really, since I diligently sent out press releases) and without a chauffeur (well, 3 of us had a chauffeur. Went by the name of "Mom." And drove the pumpkin-converted-minivan 30,000 km in 3+ months.) Yet, sights are the same no matter who's looking at them. In fact, sometimes because we had a short kid with us, we actually were allowed to move up 'to the front row' for the primo view. And, if you get up early enough, you can feel just like a débutante & enjoy having even the most famous places all to yourselves. (Ok, that's not true - débutantes sleep in.)
We don't want to build our own castles in the air. Just visit them on occasion. [Well, in the interest of full disclosure, Mikaela did suffer a temporary bout of mansion-envy, cured only by seeing the gargantuan things up close. They lacked the warmth and charm with which her active imagination had lavishly furnished them, visions instantly dispelled by grand foyers filled with hunting trophies: glass-beady eyes peering down from decapitated heads onto a less than receptive Mikaela. Now her make-me-green wish is not livin' large, but livin' off the grid, the goal being cozy & extremely efficient square footage.] M&K do appreciate the magnificence of what they see, but it is tempered with the reality of what they know, such as: Marie Antoinette, the girl who grew up in Schönbrunn Palace, eventually lost her head in Versailles; Catherine de' Médici & Diane de Poitiers, who fought viciously over the questionable figure Henry II cut in his knobby-kneed tights, were left with only Château de Chenonceau's beautiful gardens to haggle over for their troubles; painter Vincent Van Gogh took as his subjects those lovely irises & olive groves primarily because they were located just outside the doorway of his sanatorium; and, Jack London's dream home mysteriously burned down upon its completion, leaving him to write & pass his two remaining years in the small shack's sleeping porch where he first started out at 'Beauty Ranch' ...
Which finally leads me back to an alternative take on that teaching career postulate:
Those who can, do teach. Those who can't teach, whatever do they do?