Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Practicing What You Preach as a Writing Instructor

Gordon Stamper, Jr.
A few years ago, a fellow educator told me how she had resented her writing students.  They occupied what could have been her writing time with stacks of essays to grade.  How dare they complete their assignments!
Soon another, more carefully thought-out, realization came to her:  could she complete the writing work she assigned them, let alone achieve high marks?  The instructor felt hypocrisy in her expectations.  She had preoccupied herself with the career necessities of creating curriculum, writing prompts, and commenting on students’ essays, yet did not allocate any other time for her own writing, fiction or nonfiction.
A turning point came when she became a little selfish:  certain times of the week became her writing times, from a few “stolen” minutes to several hours.  From this came multiple creative nonfiction essays, short stories, and two novels.  And a positive byproduct of it was that she enjoyed teaching English and writing again.  By regaining her writing voice, she saw the importance and pleasures of helping her students gain theirs.
I went through a similar “crisis” over a decade ago.  Here I was, a composition and research writing teacher who had not written anything unrelated to school work in at least three years, and I felt burnt out and discouraged.  When I saw there were writers’ groups that met regularly in our region, I gave myself permission to write for them.
Of course, I was mostly writing for myself, but a veil lifted for me as I continued my pursuits.  There is hard work and joy in creation, and it is important to be a part of helping students—at least those willing to listen and work—discover that joy.   Yes, I can still get frustrated and even a bit infuriated with student writing, but my underlying resentment is gone.  I too am a fellow struggler in the writing craft.

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