The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The Burden of Teaching

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Few things have motivated me to write the past few years as my creative writing classes have.  The students seem to have some kind of pull on me; or rather, my striving to master what I teach has a tremendous pull on me. 

This is good in some ways.  I have had some nice success with pieces I started when was writing along with my students.  Pressure is an excellent example.  I’m a believer in participating in what I expect from students, and that encourages me to write outside of my comfort zone and develop my skills in other areas.  Poetry has been a good example of that.  I didn’t know too much about writing it when I started teaching creative writing, but have since developed a pretty decent repertoire of knowledge and skills that help me teach it to students.

But that wasn’t so hard.  I had the poetry impulse and had been writing it as a sidelight to my regular creative nonfiction for over a year before I started teaching.  Plus, I had taken poetry classes at NU that helped me develop my skills even more.

This is why fiction is still so hard for me to teach.  I haven’t had much training in it, and never had the fiction impulse that pushed me to write more of it so I could come to know it better.  This is the same complaint I’ve had ever since I taught fiction for the first time in an advanced creative writing class last spring.  Now I’m teaching it a second time, and it seems that it has actually gotten harder to teach.  I realize now that the advanced class is what saved my bacon; I had to do little more than dangle the genre before them and they steamed ahead and created using their accumulated skills.  But I’m not teaching advanced creative writing right now.  I’ve got to break it down and use a different approach with my regular creative writers.  They’re making me sweat.

I knew this was going to happen, and I think subconsciously I set myself up for it.  I want to be a better fiction writer so I can have more balance in my writing, so I can be stronger in more areas.  And I know that if I have to teach something, that automatically forces me to improve my skills in that area.  And as far as writing is concerned, the best way to improve those skills is to feel the heat and get singed while you’re working on your own stuff.

So here I am, working on another piece of fiction, and struggling to teach fiction to my students.  I’m using myself as a guinea pig.  It’s a painful process full of deadends, blind curves, and plenty of chuckholes.  But I’m doing it.  And since necessity is the mother of invention, I’ve managed to create some pretty effective lessons in the last two weeks that have addressed some important areas of fiction writing that high school students can handle.  I’ve had to experiment on myself to see if something works for me.  If it does, then I have to find a way for it to work for my students.  It sounds incredibly self-serving as I write this, but I don’t really know a better way other than to return to grad school to study fiction writing.  Since that ain’t gonna happen, I’ll just fall back on the notion of teaching myself how to do something so that I can teach others.

But it ain’t easy.  Especially in these early stages.  I need to be significantly ahead of my students so I know how far I can expect them to stretch.  I’m not there yet myself, and it’s frustrating.  It might take another two years before I’ve really got a feel for fiction skills and can bring them to my students in any meaningful way.

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Written by seeker70

November 16, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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