This week ends another semester at schools coast to coast. Kids, hopped-up on holiday sugar and anticipatory glee, teachers breathing sleepy sighs of relief. Exams, final papers, all-nighters. The academic calendar is operatic in this way; the crescendos almost breathtaking.
Me? I’m stocking up on the requisite gift cards for my daughters’ divine teachers and, at the same time, gasping for air from beneath a formidable mountain of paper grading. My students await word — an overwhelming thought when I’m just one small human with limited bits of knowledge and experience.
In the meantime, I’m pulling together my teaching portfolio so I can be evaluated by the powers-that-be. One piece of it is my Statement of Teaching Philosophy, which sounds very grandiose indeed.
Since these schizophrenic activities seem to be preventing pithier writing, I thought I’d excerpt a little of the philosophy here. Then, stay tuned — more titillating stuff on the beauty of old friends and Christmas tree farms, soon!
Statment of Teaching Philosphy, an excerpt
I am a great believer in the power of language – to inform and inspire, to move and sway, to persuade and spur on, to comfort, to entertain. More importantly, I trust in the precision of language – careful, conscious word choice – and in the unique wonder of writing or reading something vivid and evocative and true.
This power of pertinent language is available to anyone, and can be used in the realms of art and literature, medicine and science, commerce and politics alike. This, I think, is the deep secret being kept from students in our carefully delineated, product-oriented schools: words are not just for the writer.
As a teacher, I aim to open the treasure trove of language to my students so that, in the long-term, they are more confident and articulate poets and writers, students and employees, citizens and human beings. Teaching creative writing does not mean that the concerns of early literacy – grammar and mechanics, say, or the basic elements of fiction – are irrelevant. All writers revisit the basics of our craft on a regular basis. At the same time, literacy is more than making phonic sense of our language. It is about being able to read a poem or a children’s chapter book, a newspaper article or a memoir, a novel or an academic text, and fully experience the breadth and depth of what is written. Literacy is about being able to embrace literature.
My approach to teaching writing, then, is three-pronged. First, I emphasize the importance of acquiring a solid understanding of the craft at hand. This means fine-tuning the ‘rules’ that may have dulled over the years, learning to use and understand genre-specific vocabulary, and grasping the nuances of how a piece of writing works – how the puzzle gets put together. Second, I stress the absolute imperative that writers be readers. Exposing ourselves to the work of contemporary writers and those who’ve paved the way is the single most effective and intuitive way to enrich our own writing. Third and finally, I try to grow the understanding that writing is a practice, a process. As Nabokov once said, “I have rewritten – often several times – every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” (This is a particularly tough one to grasp for those of us yearning to check off items on our To Do lists.)
Outside of any methodology, though, is the muse… the lightening strike. Inspiration. Serendipity. Creative magic. I tell my students that it’s important to learn and practice the nuts and bolts of the craft and, at the same time free the mind. Living as a writer means, in part, moving through life receptive to the ideas and images that are there for the taking.