August 24, 2010

Teaching and Writing

What I’m Reading Today: Two great pieces in the Iowa Review I got in the mail yesterday: my friend Chavawn Kelley’s essay “The Romance of Barcelona” and Ben Percy’s story “The Rubber-band Gun.” Both killer ~ good job, guys!

It really feels like fall this morning ~ chilly, dark when we got up, the sun in a different place on the horizon ~ and the students went back to school yesterday. The university campus was alive with kids flirting and walking purposefully and wandering with puzzled looks on their faces.

One of the things I loved when I was teaching freshman English was being so in touch with a younger generation, knowing what matters to the people in my classes, hearing the scuttle on the latest this or that. I loved that they all have such infinite amounts of good will. They’re hopeful and smart and really want to do well. I love reading their papers, seeing what mattered to them, their earnestness, as well as their pettiness and grasping to find ways to affect their world. Some of them even try to intimidate you, especially as a female teacher. But it broke my heart to see those kids who tried so hard but just couldn’t make it.

There was one young man the first semester I taught. He was a young black man from back east, a running back on scholarship for the football team. He was good on the field, and he had a natural verbal ability in his papers for my class. He had such potential, but football took up all his time. He would come to class and be nodding in his seat, he was so tired. You could tell that he was just beat. And he tried so hard. I remember him taking the final. Even though there was not way he could pass, he came to the final and gave it his all. I wanted so much to give him a passing grade, a good grade ~ I was rooting for him ~ but there was no way. It broke my heart.

This is the reason I don’t teach freshman English any more. You’re supposed to nurture and help them to learn, but then you have to come back and stomp on them with grades. They all want As. And, I suppose, I invest too much emotionally in the students. It takes so much out of me to teach. Maybe if I had taught longer that would’ve been less of an issue.

But the main reason I quit teaching was because it pulls from the same part of the emotional brain that my writing does. When I was teaching, I couldn’t write, and it killed me. What is it that Stephen King says? It’s like having reverse battery cables draining your brain.

Maybe it’s different teaching creative writing, I don’t know.

That’s why I applaud all you stalwart writers out there who put so much into your teaching too. I don’t know how you do it. You have my deepest sympathies and my utmost admiration. Good job, guys.

Questions of the Day: Do you teach and write? How the heck do you do it?

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