Wednesday, December 29, 2010

ENG 202

"I am pleased to inform you that on the recommendation of your department, you have been selected to receive a Teaching Fellowship for the Spring Semester 2011." So starts the letter I received last fall. It was quite a thrill, one of many that happened during 2010. One of my goals when applying at Boston University was to teach upon graduation. As I wrote in my personal statement:
"Another reason I want to teach is because I want to be constantly around intelligent, creative people who value ideas, and work in a place where ideas are generated. I have worked for some incredibly stimulating organizations where creativity and openness were valued—as long as the bottom line was robust. But there is something about the nature of corporations and commerce that when, as soon as hard times come, they become very risk-aversive and ideas and creativity are the first things to be jettisoned. I want to belong to an organization where ideas—and not product or money—are generated and valued and protected."

I knew I wanted to be a writer--that I actually was a writer--when I was quite small. Starting at around second or third grade. It's all I ever really wanted to do, and quite frankly I can't imagine what I'd do if I couldn't write. I am so confident and comfortable in the medium--probably the way fish feel in water; the way we feel in air. But now I'm going to teach people how to swim, and it's a bit daunting. And what's troubling me the most is maybe that student who may not be right for the class, who may not have the talent, but is there anyway. Isn't that funny? The teaching fellows all got a letter from the department telling us to grade hard, to really push and challenge the students (well, it is Boston University, after all) and that the worst thing we could do is give an undeserving B. To encourage someone to continue to beat his or her head against a wall some more.

And I do get that. I don't think children should get trophies for just running out on the soccer field. There are winners and losers, and there is talent and then there are the wannabes. But what I've spent a good amount of time and energy doing is trying to figure out how to set up an environment that is encouraging and nurturing. A place where, if you really want to write, you'll get your chance. I don't want to get touchy feelie about this, because I truly don't see writing being that way. I guess maybe because I've always been able to do it, it doesn't seem that hard to me. It just takes practice. In my case, about forty years of practice, we all had to start somewhere. For me it was sophomore year in high school, where a student teacher named Miss Harbert showed me how to be a writer, then I turned around that craft back on her. On her final, she asked what we had learned, and I answered nothing. That writing in itself was what was needed. Or some such snotty reply. She was devastated. That's the power of words right there.

I still have the letter she sent me, hand-written from her home in Connecticut, telling me all classes weren't like hers, and all schools weren't like the one I was in, a public school in Cincinnati. And if I could find her today I'd tell her students would be lucky to have a class like hers. She got us to write, which is all you have to do. Sit down, and write everyday. If you do it every day for a semester, you'll certainly be better at the end of the semester than you were at the beginning. I'd almost guarantee it. Write every day for ten years, and you'll certainly be better. You might not be published. You might not be famous. But you'll be a better writer. And that's all  you really should strive for. The rest is gravy.


The Witty Fool said...

I was intimidated by my writing teachers. It wasn't until I got to college and had a professor who doubled as a lit and philosophy professor. He had absolutely no respect for the 'rules' and only then did I feel good enough about writing in an academic setting.

Not that I didn't write before that. My dad always wrote and I wanted to be like him, typing on his blue electric typewriter. And really, maybe he was the best teacher. Because I saw how it made him happy and gave him a voice for things... even when I was far too young to understand the things he needed to express. But, my point is, if you show your students your love and passion for the written word, that will inspire them.

Action Bob said...

i know my kids have seen what you saw in your dad...i just get up everyday and write...there's nothing special or magical or hard about simply sitting down and writing, and as you mentioned, but having the pure joy of the act of writing...

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