This post originally appeared on the blog on 12/22/11
I’m always surprised when, weeks into a semester, I’ll say something in class that prompts a student to tilt his head at me and say, “Wait—you write, too?”
Meaning—you don’t only teach this stuff, but you actually do it?
I’m not talking about my upper-level or graduate students, who enter class with a sense of their professors’ professional interests and activities. But my introductory students are often surprised to learn that when I’m not in the classroom or at office hours, I’m at home doing exactly what I’m asking them to do: writing.
We sometimes take it for granted that our undergraduates know what it is to teach at the college level—that creative writing instructors are also creative writers. That we, too, struggle for the right form for a poem or the best way to end a story or the most honest and vivid way to present an essay. We, too, drink coffee; we, too, stop ourselves from wasting time on the internet. We doubt ourselves, and then we think we’re brilliant, and then we realize that, no, we aren’t. We fret over deadlines. We fret over fretting. We worry that no one will “get” what we’re writing; we worry that everyone will. The biggest difference between us and our students is that we’ve read more books and written more words. We’re further along in an apprenticeship that only ends when we’re in the ground.
But why should our students know any of this? It might seem obvious to us, but why should they suspect that the person who reads their work and directs the discussion and ultimately grades them is a writer as well as a teacher—especially if I haven’t talked to them about that part of my life?
In the past, I’ve tended to shy away from such talk, believing that the focus of the class, after all, is on them, not me. In my own experience as a student, I never much liked when a teacher went on and on about his or her own work. It felt like showing off. However, I’ve come to believe that in a workshop, students appreciate a modest amount of disclosure and candor, and I’ve become more comfortable talking—in moderation—about what I’m working on or struggling with, without feeling as if what I say needs to have a foreordained pedagogical objective.
My question to you: How, and to what degree, do you bring your own writing life into the classroom?