Sunday, August 23, 2015

Crafting a Creative Writing Class

Dear readers, another semester is upon us! And like every semester, this one comes with its own set of challenges and surprises. 

At USF, second year is a special time in every creative writing student’s life. This is the time that we get to TEACH creative writing. Before this, I taught three classes of composition, and I am grateful for the experience. But I was also grateful for the syllabus that was handed to me and the formula I was given to follow. I never had any formal pedagogical training before coming here, so I was happy for the hand-holding.

Well, the hand-holding is over. On Tuesday, I will stand before a roomful of students who have signed up for Creative Writing 2100, Narration and Description. I was given suggestions about which textbooks to use and a few sample syllabi, but for the most part, I’m flying this plane.

At first, I didn’t realize that I was the pilot. I modified the sample syllabus that I was given and sent it along to my professor. [Thankfully, we will also be taking a class on Teaching Creative Writing, but that starts at the same time as our own classes begin. It will be a great help as the semester progresses, but for now, we’re on our own.]

My professor sent back her comments. Nice syllabus, she wrote. But what do you really want to teach these students? I hadn’t really thought about it. I was just going to teach them what I was supposed to teach them.

At a bar the other night, I met a woman who had just finished her undergrad at USF. When I told her I’d be teaching Narration and Description, her face blossomed into a smile. “That class changed my life,” she yelled across the table, making herself heard in the loud bar.

Whoa. The possibility of changing lives had never occurred to me. Later on, I was speaking to a friend on the phone, another woman fresh out of undergrad.

“My freshman writing class opened up my whole world,” she said. “It changed the way I see the world around me, and my place in it.”

All of a sudden, I had a whole new vision of what I was doing in that classroom. Yes, my job was to get them to think critically about literature and explore different forms and techniques of creative writing. But, this was also an opportunity to expose them to ideas and worldviews they may never have considered before.

I threw my old syllabus out. Whereas before, planning the class seemed like drudgery, now I was on fire, constantly adding ideas to my list of activities, assignments, readings, and field trips. This has given me the opportunity to think back to all the things – poems, books, photos, places, and people – that influenced me at that age and brainstorm ways that I can bring those experiences into my classroom.

Do you have any books, movies, poems, photographs – ANYTHING – that truly moved you as a young adult? I am open to all of your ideas!