Monday, April 16, 2018

Why Do I Teach Writing?

In some of my online college composition courses, I ask my students to complete a student questionnaire. The final question is, "Do you have a question for me?" In one class, a number of students asked a version of, "Why do you teach writing?"

Why do I teach? Why do I enjoy teaching online to mostly adult students? There really isn't one answer.

Perhaps the biggest answer is that I am a writer and I enjoy discussing the craft and power of good writing. In particular, I enjoy helping students, especially self-proclaimed, "non-writers," to find a way into a subject and present their ideas clearly. Most of my classes are required for graduation. The students might not love writing, but as adults navigating personal, professional and educational obligations, they understand it is an important skill.

We need to regularly communicate with words, if not in writing. We need our words, sentences and paragraphs to clearly communicate our ideas. This is true for journalists, plumbers and dancers. That is to say, everyone needs to find peace with words and use them regularly.

Most of my college students have years of writing experience. They don't see it that way because they aren't professional writers or they think that their writing (by which they might mean any form of communication) hasn't been particularly successful or easy. I see an important part of my job to be encouraging them to gain confidence in what they already know. The classes I teach build on that prior knowledge and help the students to think critically about what they know and want to know. I encourage them to practice the craft of writing in order to be more precise, creative and interesting to an intended reader.

There is (or can or should be) a lot of overlap between teachers and coaches. One of my writing coach clients recently referred me to this article by Jim Sollisch in Poets & Writers Magazine, "Piano Lessons: Do Writers Need a Teacher or a Coach?" I particularly like this section, "The difference between teaching and coaching is the difference between thinking and doing. Teachers are in the concept business; coaches deal in the physical world. Theory versus practice."

I enjoy working with students and discussing writing. There is no doubt that this is a useful skill that I am helping them to practice more regularly and comfortably. I appreciate that the skills are useful and I'm not producing waste.

As the character Lloyd Dobler said in the (troublesome through the lens of 2018) movie Say Anything, "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that." Teaching writing accomplishes this and much, much more. (And now you know that deep down I am and always will be a kid from the 80's.)

Thank you to my students for their questions that continue to teach me something about writing and myself.

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