Now that summer is winding down, I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve spent these too-short weeks, the hyphen between student terms when I always hope to refresh myself and my ways of being in the world. How am I spending my time – and do I approve of what I find?
This summer, I did have a glorious two weeks when I turned off all devices and headed to Bergen, Norway, to cruise the spectacular coast of Norway and then sail down to the Lofoten, Shetland, and Orkney Islands before landing in Greenwich. For those weeks, I read mysteries, walked the decks, rode the exercise bike, hiked through tiny villages, marveled at fjords, listened to classical music and jazz—and studied the sun, moon, and stars. The long, long Norwegian twilights brought sensory delights and calm, an inward turning that felt restorative. But it took a while to get there. In fact, on the fourth day of this voyage I thought I was “coming down with something” until I realized: I was relaxed! Four days to slow down, give my racing brain a break, and ease into a space of peace and reflection.
I was ready to come home, to resume the usual pace of my life, to plunge into 12-hour days of writing and reading and work. But oh, the glories of those two weeks: they are with me still. Thus my first hope for every teacher of writing is that summertime brought you some respite, some relaxation, some deeply felt pleasures—no matter how brief.
As summer begins to lean toward fall, however, I enjoy what to me is the best time of the year: the beginning of a new school term with the new class of frosh (the class of ’22 this year!). So my second hope for every teacher of writing is that this fall will find you, refreshed and renewed, ready to plunge into the work we all share and love. In the last ten or twelve days, I’ve been visiting with teachers of writing across the country as they prepare for fall term—at Texas Tech, Loyola, University of South Carolina, Northern Illinois University (just for a start); I even got to experience the excitement of the new students, which was electric and contagious.
In all cases, I found teachers working together to craft outstanding syllabi and challenging assignments, to select and analyze readings, to consider assessment methods, to mount pedagogical experiments of several kinds, and to develop activities that engage students in challenging and productive work, and that guide them in the processes of inquiry and discovery and in the pursuit of writing about the most galvanizing issues of our time responsibly, ethically, and respectfully. Teachers everywhere are also focusing on thinking critically and rhetorically, on teaching students to be their own best fact checkers who are able to assess the information that bombards them daily and to learn to give their attention to those sources that are truly worthy of it.
At every school I visited, I argued that we and our students stand at a very significant crossroads this fall, one that demands our very best efforts to sort out truth from lies, information from disinformation, and mere hype from credible statements. In my view, our students need our guidance and wisdom perhaps more than ever before. As we need theirs.
Here’s hoping for a rewarding year of teaching writing, reading, and presenting!
Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford