Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Teaching Taught Me


When I decided to get an MFA in Creative Writing, my reasons were selfish. I wanted to write a novel, and I hadn’t been able to do that while working full time. I wanted three years to focus on my craft. I wanted to work with published authors and talented classmates, making connections that could sustain a writing life after graduation. Basically, I wanted to make my life better. And so, after three years of plotting, planning, and preparing, off I went.

There was, however, one other thing I had to do while I was in school, and that was teach. While I was grateful for the yearly stipend my teaching assistantship earned me (it was, in fact, the only way I could afford to go back to school) I wasn’t prepared for the amount of time and attention it demanded. After completing my own course work--reading a book a week, commenting on pieces for various workshops, sitting in on hours and hours of lectures--I wanted to work on my own writing. Instead, I had to write lesson plans and come up with writing exercises, hold office hours and conduct classes, and grade. The grading alone filled all my best hours, leaving little time to work on my own writing.

I will admit that, at times, I resented my students. I resented my teaching assistantship. I resented my stipend, which really wasn’t enough, all things considered. I came to this program for selfish reasons, remember? I wanted to be a writer. I had a novel to finish. These students were a distraction. Teaching was a waste of my precious time.

Last year, however, something changed. It was a subtle shift, and I’m not sure what exactly caused it. Maybe it was becoming more comfortable in front of the class. Maybe it was getting to know my students better. Maybe it was watching them grow as writers, the flush of pride I felt when they repeated something I’d said during their own workshops. Maybe it was explaining things to them about writing and reading and how that process helped me better understand my own work. Maybe we were becoming better writers together. Maybe they were the ones teaching me.

I decided to go back to school for selfish reasons, and I started out resenting everything that kept me from my personal goals. Three years later, about to start my sixth and final semester of teaching, I recognize that I love being in the classroom, as a student and as a teacher. When I started this program, I wanted to learn about writing from the published authors who would be my professors. It’s been a surprise and a pleasure to look back and realize that some of the most important lessons have come from my students.

A few weeks ago, I met with a student to talk about a revision. During our meeting, I mentioned that I graduate this May. “Maybe the university will hire you full time!” he said, excited by the possibility. I laughed, knowing it was unlikely, realizing--suddenly--how much I wished it could happen. Realizing--suddenly--that I wanted to teach.

I don’t know what will happen in May, what jobs I’ll find, what opportunities are out there. Two things, however, are certain. The first is that I will write. The second is that I will learn. Because if there’s one thing that teaching has taught me, it’s the magic of knowing less than we think, and the thrill of learning more. 

(This is the second, and final, sponsored conversation, for which I was reimbursed by Kaplan University and BlogHer. While they've inserted an ad at the bottom of this post, the actual content, opinions, and advice are 100% my own. While I don't usually do this kind of thing on The New Me, the topics of education and going back to school seemed like a good enough fit. I hope you agree!) 

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