05 September 2012

"a-b-c, easy as 1-2-3 ..." : on teaching (part i)

I have to say there's not much I love more than teaching. I mean, apart from writing. So the fact that I get to teach writing is quite a thrill.

But here's the thing about teaching ... When I'm teaching about writing, I'm not actually doing the writing---and the same goes for my students, that when they are listening to me talk about writing, they're not actually doing it, just thinking about it, and maybe (hopefully) envisioning the process of doing it.

The hard thing about teaching writing is that it's hard to do it in the moment. It's hard to sit with a student and say, "This is what you have to do to write well," when my process as a writer looks nothing like that. And my writing process tends to look absolutely nothing like what I teach!  I share with my students strategies for road-mapping an essay, for brainstorming, for collecting sources before hand and weaving them into an essay. But what did I survive on as a writing student in undergrad? I took prompts and ran with them. I started writing and found sources to correlate with what I wanted to say, and wove them in as I went. I edited as I wrote, so that by the time I finished I was F.I.N.I.S.H.E.D. (mostly). I did absolutely nothing right (at least, according to what I was usually told was right), and yet I always (or almost always--don't let me be too sure of myself) succeeded.

So how do I teach my students the "right way" when it's not my right way? How do I teach them to play by the rules when I so deeply love (loveloveloveLOVE) playing against them?

The answer, at least for me, is very simple: Teaching is not about me.

And if you're a teacher, it's not about you, either.

Over the past few years working with students at all levels, I've found that no matter what works for me, and no matter what my personal preferences are in writing, they are coming at it from their own writing goals, interests, and abilities. That was kind of a big "Duh" moment for me, actually, when I first started teaching at the university level. Students are coming at writing not as poets, and not as "academic-types," but as 17- and 18-year-olds who would rather be skateboarding or shopping or studying for their Economics exam or practicing for football try-outs or reading the latest installment of their favorite novel series. It's not that they don't want to write ... but they also don't want to write like me. They want to write like them. And they want to learn how they can take what they already know about writing and apply it to what all their other professors are asking of them.

And guess what? Their professors are probably asking them to follow the rules.


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1 comment:

  1. It's like working with forms of poetry even though you generally write free verse. You can learn from working within the rules even if you choose not to use them most of the time.


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