Tagged teaching

Mailbag: Teaching Creative Writing

This week I’m responding to thoughts and comments on my post about Teaching a Creative Writing Class. That’s right — in the fall, I’ll be loosed upon the unsuspecting student population as a teacher. And I wanted my readers to speak up about what they would want in a writing teacher. Many readers had suggestions. Susie said:

As a teacher myself (and granted, I teach the little guys), I know how easy it is to get overwhelmed, especially if you are given a literal whole world of resources to choose from! Decide what your Big Ideas are first, what you want the students to know, and choose your literature around those goals. Then you can bring in a selection of different pieces to illustrate each Big Idea, and you’re not tied into a particular author, time period, or genre. I’m excited for you–best of luck!

Thanks, Susie! This did end being the way I decided to structure my syllabus — rather than moving in a linear way through short stories and their history, I grouped readings around certain things at work in different stories. I have weeks based around voice, plot structure, or dialogue, then I just picked stories that put these things to use in different ways. Hopefully it will keep the kids guessing about what they’re going to read next.

Felicia said:

As an avid reader who was left cold by some of the classics I was told to read in school, I would have the students explore more than one genre….I find that art suffers a great deal from narrowly defining what is ‘art’ to a single style or genre. Pop art might not be ‘classic’ but it is art. It takes talent, hard work and skill to create and someone out there thinks it is moving and lovely.

Well put, Felicia! I, too, think universities often force students to slog through the perceived heavyweights of the English canon, with not enough emphasis on contemporary fiction or short stories that are more immediate or moving to contemporary students. I’ve taken care not to include stories just because they’re the thing to read; I’m having students read stories that I loved myself.

After the jump: more suggestions and comments on what a good creative writing teacher needs.

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What Is Your Ideal Writing Teacher?

As you know from an earlier post, I’m in the process of planning my first creative writing class as a teacher. I’m excitedly picking poems and stories to read, as well as writing exercises, but at the same time it’s gotten me wondering about larger questions, such as what kind of a creative writing teacher I want to be, anyway. I’ve had my share of them over the years, both as an undergraduate and a grad student. I’ve had admirable, aloof ones, dispensing wisdom from on high; I’ve had young, hip ones, joking and one of the gang; I’ve had funny ones, and drill sargent-type ones who want to put their students through “writing boot camp” (that last teacher was a former Marine, so it figures). But what is the ideal?

The first thing, I think, is to (obviously) be myself. I don’t have the confidence (or the ego) to be a lofty personality; I’m also not a huge joker, so it would end up seeming forced and fakey if I tried a comedy routine with every class. I’m also not a hardliner; I don’t yell and discipline that well. What I do do well is talk. I love discussions; I love seeing ideas develop and blossom through conversation. I intend to get my students talking, and to let them take the reins in these discussions about literature.

Not all aspects of being a teacher can be freewheeling discussions, however. There needs to be a clear sense of the expectations and rules of the workshop. After all, students will be graded on their performance, so they have a right to know what will go into those grades. A good learning environment is one in which there are fairly strict expectations and guidelines, I believe, along with a lot of freedom of ideas to go with it. I’m ready for the students to hate my reading list, for example, and I want them to talk about it, as long as they can tell my why the books are bad.

So let’s turn it over to you, readers! What kind of teaching experience do you expect in a creative writing class?