Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Reverent Art of Teaching

General duties of a student: pull everything out of your teacher. 
Pull everything out of your fellow students.

General duties of a teacher: pull everything out of your students.

As you may have heard (I’ve been shouting it from the mountaintops), I’m teaching creative writing this semester. The class I’m teaching is an overview of the genres and a chance for undergrads to dip their toes into the endless well that is “creative writing.” Two weeks in and I am brimming with gratitude, happiness, and a bit of apprehension, too.

First of all, it’s a huge honor to be teaching creative writing as a graduate student. I recognize that not many MFA students have this opportunity and I am definitely going to try my best to do right by my students. It’s a far cry from teaching composition, where I was handed a syllabus, content, and projects to fulfill. I was grateful for the hand-holding, though, since I had little experience with the topic before teaching it. Now, it is up to me to write the syllabus, provide readings, plan assignments and decide on a grading rubric. No biggie, right?

Thankfully, I have the good fortune of taking a creative writing practicum in conjunction with teaching my class. This means that I get to bounce ideas off my classmates on a weekly basis (who are also teaching creative writing for the first time) and learn different ways to foster a creative environment for my students to grow, explore, and flourish. Did I mention that one of the most wonderful professors I’ve ever had is teaching it? So very exciting. On a less exciting note, all of us teachers will be filmed twice this semester for learning purposes. My professors says that athletes figured out a long time ago that studying footage of their games helps them get better, so why not writing teachers?

And then, there’s the part about actually being in the classroom, reading and writing alongside some pretty special students. My practicum professor says we must always approach the students with reverence. This hit home for me last Tuesday when they turned in their first piece of creative writing. Sitting at my desk at home, reading through the essays and poems, I was struck by the sheer bravery of my students. Creating by definition means making something that did not exist before. Therefore, being creative means you must accept the unknown and give in to the process. Tapping into this part of yourself requires a willingness to be vulnerable, which is not always an easy thing to do.

I was moved to read my students’ work. It is clear that they put time and effort into their writing, and their creative courage blew me away.  But also, I am honored to be given this role as educator to cultivate and nourish their beautiful creative spirit. I recognize now what a super special position I’m in to bear witness to creativity, and I also recognize that with this gift comes responsibility.
As I delve deeper into the creative process, I am beginning to understand it as a marriage between mystery and discipline. One must be brave enough to jump into the unknown, but also wise enough to trust the free-fall.