Thursday, June 11, 2009

And so it begins . . .

After my 3PM meeting this afternoon, I will officially start my summer.

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As I said in posts below, it is not my intent to read all those books in the list. I just posted it to show you/see what everyone recommends. The tastes, I see, are wide-ranging.

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Baby is teething, big time. Lower right bicuspids. He was in some real pain last night and refused to eat. We've got all the gels and the fix-it medications. Sleep seemed to do the trick.

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My creative writing students want to be creative writing teachers. There is nothing inherently bad about wanting to pursue this particular line of work. There is, though, a divergent array of obstacles that are in their way. My job as their teacher and adviser is to teach them not only about art, literature, and a life of reading, but to teach them how to navigate the very difficult terrain that comes with my line of work. I also have to stress to them that what I do is not for everyone. Therein lies the crux of the problem--on the one hand, creative writers in academia can thrive and be effective teachers. On the other hand, by becoming a model for students as an artist in an academic environment, (depending on the teachers and the students) you're providing students with a limited world view of the life of an artist. I want to stress that all of these thoughts are my thoughts and are subjective. I can say that I had the benefit of learning from very effective creative writing teachers. They were not perfect teachers, but they did instill in me a passion for writing and especially for reading.

I've been teaching college-level courses since 1994 when I was a biology TA. I did take some breaks in between, but that's almost 15 years of teaching at the college level. I wasn't a great biology TA. I wasn't a great creative writing TA either, but over the years I've gained some insight into how to work in a classroom. I personally was motivated to become a better teacher at the sacrifice of some of my art. Ah yes, so there. I said it . . . at the sacrifice of my art. I'm okay with making these sacrifices because that's how I'm wired. I know that I can't write when I'm teaching during the year because it takes quite a deal of creative energy to prepare for classes, and I'm okay with that. I just love being with students who want to learn about literature. I love filling out my book order forms for the next quarter's classes. I love discussing the books with students who may be encountering an artist's work for the first time.

Not every artist can or will thrive under such circumstances and not every academic environment will allow the artists housed in their towers to make such sacrifices. I like to think about the poet Robert Hayden when I think about writers who teach. Brilliant writer whose own poetic output, it is suggested, was greatly affected by his teaching. I've also had classes with well-respected writers who didn't care about their teaching. It definitely showed and it did illicit some distaste for the course, but there are always teachers who greatly care about their own teaching.

How do you learn to navigate the academic world as an artist? How did I learn to navigate the academic world as an artist? I had good models and I'm still learning.
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I really like this article by my friend, Papatya, on the whole tenure process: Papatya's article.

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Current Spin:

Still listening to Eulogies.

3 comments:

Reb said...

In response to your comments about teaching CW, I think the reason so many students want to become teachers (without knowing, as you put it, the array of obstacles) is because the only writers/poets they know at this point in their lives are teachers. I think a common assumption by students is that to write one must teach. I think this is especially the case for undergrads.

I've been invited to speak at a few colleges over the past few years. The one consistent thing I've come across is the surprise at learning that when I graduated college I worked a 9 to 5 corporate job (and I still wrote!). Then after four years of that I went to grad school and after that I did not teach, but started a jewelry design business. Then I explain that now I'm a stay-at-home-mom who also runs a magazine, a press and writes from home. They look at me with astonishment like I just showed them my tail or something.

Maybe something you can work into your classes are visits from local poets who don't teach. Not to discourage anyone who really wants to teach, but to show there's many ways to go about it, that writers *can* teach, but it's not an automatic coupling.

Oliver de la Paz said...

Reb,

You're absolutely right and thanks for responding.

If I'm to do my job as a creative writing teacher in academia, I need to demonstrate to students that there are other creative writing communities out there. And I do attempt to bring writers who are outside of academia to give readings and talks to my students. The other factor that plays into this, also, is that in order to support me in demonstrating such divergent creative writing communities to an undergraduate population, my institution needs to be willing to "go there." I'm lucky enough to be in such an institution where online media, graphic novels, film--discussions and inclusion of such things are accepted. I also suspect that this is because a lot of my colleagues are younger.

So we do have work to do in academia, if we were to faithfully and honestly teach our students what's out there in creative writing.

Trina said...

As a former student who once thought I might want to teach, I can honestly say that actually teaching was the best motivator for figuring out what other avenues exist for poets. You're right--it ain't easy. And it's not for everyone.

To add to what Reb has already said, one of my assumptions as a student was that one had to be ensconced in academia in order to publish, which I think is closely related to the fact that the only writers students know are their professors.

The sad part is that, even for those who want to teach and find that they have an aptitude for it, there are only so many jobs to go around. I think Western's English department does a pretty good job of creating coursework that was geared toward giving English majors a sense of what their marketable skills might be and, in so doing, balancing artistry with practicality.

As for me, I'm happy as a clam editing training manuals and statistics journals. I have the time and mental space to write and every once in a while I get a poem accepted somewhere.

I think your students will find their way to whatever works for them eventually through trial and error, if nothing else.