Published at The Kairos Journal
Teaching is important to me, and I want to do it as well as I possibly can. For one thing, teaching writing has made me a better writer. It’s true, you only really learn some things once you start teaching them to others. But there’s another reason. It occurred to me that the work I do as a fiction writer and poet may never see the light of day, and even if it ever does, odds are it will die with me. Not so whatever time I spend with students, which really might make a difference to someone’s life, however brief or small.
It’s true that the impact my teaching has may be incredibly brief or small. As we were told at orientation, unlike you, your students are not lying awake at night mulling over what you covered in class. Or as my mom, who teaches young children, says: They forget almost everything!
Still, I need to do everything I can to remind myself how lucky I am to be doing this. And in the previous semester, I’d stumbled upon the best way I know how.
During the first week of that fall, my Facebook feed was full of statuses by my fellow instructors. “Thoughts after viewing my class roster for the first time: every one of my students looks older than me.” “Friends, I love teaching.” “Reader, they tolerated me.”
I didn’t often compose Facebook statuses, but now the gauntlet had been thrown. Still, I didn’t want to feel like I was talking behind my students’ backs, just because they wouldn’t see what I wrote. So I pictured myself addressing them, saying some of the things you always think to say a minute after you’ve let them go. “Dear students” was how I always began.
The statement I wrote after our third class proved to be a turning point:
Dear students, we spent a long and incredibly fruitful time unpacking just the title of today’s reading, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” You made great points about how the question automatically picked a fight with an Internet giant, that Google acting on ‘us’ meant we were under attack, that ‘stupid’ was an emotionally charged word. I love that you’ve got a fight in you.
I’d put a quote by E. M. Forster on the top of their syllabus: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” Rereading my own words, I felt something change in me, unexpectedly. Suddenly I wasn’t just lost in a sea of my own ignorance and fear and insecurity anymore. The students were less of an opaque unknown. I knew exactly what I thought of them in that moment, fixed it into words.
I love that you’ve got a fight in you.
It was news to me. I might not always know what I was doing, but I did know I was on their side.