Thoughts on Teaching

Any real teacher knows that the job of the teacher is to draw out the genius that already resides in each student. Michael Meade in an interview in The Sun, November 2011.

Being a good teacher doesn’t mean so much that I download what I know but rather that I help you recognize and value what you already know: your stories, your passions, your voice, your creative process.

I do this by creating an environment in which writers can flourish. Often this means giving you challenges. I expect my students to do a lot of work and I also offer a lot of feedback, based on my twenty years of experience as a teacher and editor.

I do have skills to share. I am good at creating structures that help support you, whether that is a sequence of exercises that lead to a goal, or offering templates that help you develop a plot or find the shape for an essay.

Always in my classes, writers work on their own projects, not on topics I assign, because I believe the lessons learned from virtuoso writers can only be integrated into your vocabulary if you apply them to your own work.

Unlike many teachers, I encourage you to find your own role models. I might like essays by Bernard Cooper, Rebecca Solnit, Brenda Miller, but you might prefer Lydia Davis or Cormac McCarthy. While I will bring in examples to point out certain techniques, I also encourage you to bring in examples of work you love. I show you how to analyze that writing and apply the lessons learned to your own writing.

I am not a big fan of the workshop method of teaching writing. I think it is rather slow and clumsy. So in most classes, I will not ask you to spend a lot of time reading and critiquing the work of other students. But I know students are inspired by hearing each other’s work and generous with ideas and suggestions so I create opportunities in every class for you to interact with other students, usually in pairs or trios. The bonds formed in a writing class can be lifelong; I have many students who are still meeting in groups that formed after our class together.

I got my MA in Educational Psychology at Cal State University, Northridge where I was influenced by the philosophy of Carl Rogers, who believed that no one can teach another person directly and that students only learn when material is relevant to them. I was also influenced early on by the philosophy of Peter Elbow who used creative exercises and non-directed writing to help writers break through blocks caused by perfectionism. I love taking classes and I have learned a great deal from other teachers. Some of my most influential teachers: Rebecca Brown, Priscilla Long, Donald Maass.

Teaching is always a learning experience. And my most valuable teachers are my students. I always do homework and writing along with my class and hope that by engaging in the process along with you, I can advance my own writing, serve as a role model, and have a better sense of how much work I am requiring.

Master teachers only wish for the evolution of their students.  And that is my wish for my students. I want you to love the process of writing, to acquire skills and to achieve success, as you define it.

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