An Interview with College English Teacher Amanda Salmon

My path to friendship with today's bitch is long and ridiculous. In 2003, I was dating a guy who lived with Amanda's 2003 boyfriend. Amanda and I were around each other, but in that weird way you're around your boyfriend's roommate's girlfriend. Soon thereafter, I met John and moved out of that circle of friends. In dating John, I gained one Katie Haas, and Katie's sister Courtney is Amanda's best friend. So Amanda was back, but she and Courtney were/are crazy football people and I am not, so our paths still didn't cross. A few years ago, I ran into Amanda at Publix and we realized that we're basically neighbors, so we found each other on Facebook and started talking and going to each other's parties. Then Amanda asked if she could go with me to twerk class, and we became legit friends. We've spent the last eight months carpooling to twerk class, spilling our guts to each other in the almost two-hour roundtrip car ride (2-3 x week). Well, until recently, as Amanda has betrayed me for procreation.

It only took thirteen years, but Amanda is one of my closest friends. She's not only lived a lot of life, she's put in the work to get perspective on it. And that perspective has helped me immensely as I've hit some of these things later than she did. She also shares my insane, unbridled enthusiasm for Halloween and rap music. Amanda is all of my favorite adjectives: kind, smart, funny, and wholehearted. There's no one I'd rather not meet Kanye West with. Meet today's bitch, Amanda Salmon!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am an Adjunct English Instructor at Belmont University and Nashville State Community College.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I knew I wanted to teach English during my Honors Writing for College class during my senior year of high school, taught by one of the most memorable teachers I ever had at any level, Jay Callis.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

So naturally, like any college student, after one year as an English major, I switched to Journalism. I enjoyed the telling of stories and the putting together of a tangible product that my fellow students and the faculty/staff at our university could engage in. My senior year I was named editor of our school paper, The Belmont Vision, and while that was one of my most treasured memories from undergrad, it also helped me realize something valuable -- my heart was not in journalism as a profession. I took two English writing courses that semester -- Writing about Politics and Humor and Writing about Faith -- and I was jolted back to my senior year of high school when I first thought of being an English teacher. Very helpful for a college senior to realize that in her last semester!

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

Long and winding and confusing. Because I had not really followed the traditional path to becoming an English teacher or professor, I knew I wanted to go down that road, but was fearful of doing so at 21 years old. So I took a job working in marketing and communications at Belmont for the first five years after I graduated. It was a great first place to work and I got to work on many incredible projects (producing two shows at the Ryman and helping coordinate the 2008 Presidential Debate), but the longer I stayed there, the less my heart was in it. I had never known an environment other than Belmont, but I knew I needed to try something different.

Trying to shorten this up, an opportunity became available for a high school librarian in Sumner County. As I researched and learned about what school librarians do now (I have zero memories of the librarians when I was in high school), I thought it may be a good fit and a good way to discover if teaching truly was something I wanted to pursue. The first two years were great, though it never felt exactly *right*. It wasn’t teaching English and I found myself envious of the English teachers when I heard them talk about their classes. By my third year, I went through a lot of changes, both positive and horribly negative, that left me feeling empty, exhausted, and unable to pour into my students in a position I was not sure was even a good fit for me. So, I resigned and with the unbelievable support and encouragement of my husband, I finally decided to chase the calling I had felt since I was 18. I went back to school to receive my master’s in English (back at Belmont) and began teaching adjunct after I graduated in May. I’m in my first semester and this is, without a doubt, what I am supposed to be doing.

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

There is no such thing as a wrong decision. The consequences may be different based on what path you choose, but you’re never making the wrong choice if you approach the problem or opportunity with humility, grace, and a sense of humor.

Also, quitting is often the most courageous thing we can do. When I quit those jobs at Belmont and at the high school, I know for certain some co-workers (and let’s be honest, some family and friends), looked at me like I was a failure, like I couldn’t just buck up and get through it -- it’s just a job, right? For me, I knew there was more that I was capable of and more I wanted to accomplish, and the only way to get there was by quitting those jobs.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

When I taught high school, one of my earliest goals was to make sure my students liked me, that I would be considered the cool, fun teacher. Total rookie mistake! I was often taken advantage of and zapped of all energy as I tried pouring every ounce of myself into them.

Now with my college students, I have a much healthier sense of my boundaries (and also -- why do I want to be friends with college first year students?). My priorities are to help them become better writers than they were on the first day of class and to help them learn the essential skills of critical and creative thinking and not being afraid of asking themselves tough questions. They know I support them, but I am not there to be their pal.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

I’m really really REALLY proud of my master’s thesis. I was able to combine three of my loves (Greek comedy, modern sitcom, and feminism) into an argument that the resiliency women show when they are able to laugh in the face of allllllll of the crap flung at us allllll the time (hello, Donald Trump!) is actually our most powerful form of rebellion. I got really sick a few years ago and it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I was actually able to take control of my physical body again, and writing my thesis through that time was both a professional and a personal victory.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Fitbit (I gotta know how much sleep I had, it’s weird), then e-mail.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Well, that's recently changed. My answer used to be going to twerk class with Kim or meeting up with friends for happy hour and tacos. I also have a committed relationship with my DVR. I am pregnant with my first child, so on days that I teach, the only thing on my mind is how soon can I go back to bed, so naps are my new decompression. I'm looking forward to evenings of twerking and tacos after this baby's here!

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

I thought this when I taught high school, and still believe it to be true now. Every person who teaches should also be given a counseling degree. Our students’ lives are hard and that affects their work and their ability to cope with so many of the changes they are going through -- especially students in their first year of college. Helping them through the muck and mire without letting it take a personal toll on you is heavy sometimes.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That students today are just inherently bad writers and it must be like pulling teeth to get an actual coherent thought out of them. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, they have toooo many coherent thoughts and need to be reined in a bit! My job is to help them hone in on what is important and learn how to communicate those ideas effectively. I’m not jealous of them. I can’t imagine growing up with the Internet being ever constant. They’ve never known life without it, and that’s hardly their fault.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Favorite TV show of all time:  Mad Men. Favorite show currently on the air:  Jane the Virgin.

I’ll give you two answers for my favorite snack: when I’m not pregnant, nachos, all the time. Now that I’m pregnant, alllll I want for every meal and snack ever, is a glass of orange juice, a bowl of broccoli, and Cheetos. I don’t understand it, but that trio is the quickest way to my heart these days.

All photos courtesy of Amanda Salmon

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Baker and Writer, Lisa Donovan!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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