A day after saying good-bye to Allen Hoffman, who is retiring from Bar-Ilan, I had to say good-bye to my wonderful class at David Yellin College. Most of the members of this heterogeneous group of sixteen folks aged 21-65 had never participated in a writing workshop until this year. It proved to be a great experience, not only for them, but also for me (seated with red scarf).
Because my father told me when I was sixteen to be a teacher, I never wanted to teach. I preferred being a poet, despite my father’s warnings that poets, unlike teachers, cannot pay rent. I succeeded in not being a teacher until October 2010 when I finally stood at the head of a real classroom with a real white board behind me, having committed to teach the same group once a week for a full academic year. I loved the sense of authority I felt by standing in front of the class. Why hadn’t I listened to my father? But after the first ten minutes of being authoritative, I sat and encountered my students at eye level.
Though I made lesson plans for each week, I did not trust my mouth to produce words every time I opened it. Much to my surprise, the words came, usually in English and in a logical order I sounded quite intelligent, even, like I knew what I was talking about. Who is this person, I wondered, who sounds like a teacher? Some weeks I got so excited about discussing sentence structure or Thoreau’s essay “Walking” that I even inspired myself, not to mention my students who sometimes left the classroom several centimeters off the floor. How grand to be inspiring. Had my father experienced such inspired teaching in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1911?
One of the smartest decisions I made for this course that I called So You Want To Write, as in You xxx, you think it’s so easy to write? was to put the emphasis on reading published works during the first semester. I gave writing exercises in class and for home, but these were strictly for the writer’s eyes. If anyone read an exercise in class during the first semester, there was no workshopping, only a thank-you. By the time we started workshopping the students’ writings at the beginning of the second semester, a strong group atmosphere had developed, so there was immediate trust and support.
For a new teacher, I must say I did a pretty good job. It wasn’t just me, of course. This was a fabulous group of people. That’s why it was sad to say good-bye. That’s why next year I’ll end the class in May. I can’t take so many separations in one month.