Why I Teach People How to Write

As a non-traditional teacher, the title above has always dogged my teaching experience. I even go so far as to refer to myself as a “facilitator” rather than a “teacher” so as not to mislead anyone that I am properly credentialed or degreed. I have plenty of each, just not those that the venerable institution of American Education prefers.

I teach anyway, and it is one of the things I do to create a writing life. I have taught students from pre kindergarten to retirement age in informal classes, workshops and community college. Teaching is one of the greatest pleasures I have.

Six years ago, miracle of miracles, I published my first novel in my own name. The threshold of published writer had been crossed! I became an author. But the classes I teach give me the most pleasure. My most recent classes are comprised of six to ten students, all of who signed up to “learn” to write. As if they needed teaching…

All of my courses reveal something exciting and profound in one form or another. One year, a reticent student sat quiet, respectfully passing up opportunities to read from her work until the afternoon she read about the day she was sick and injured during a battle in the Iraqi war. The class was speechless and I couldn’t believe her bravery.

Last fall, a seemingly timid woman, who immediately professed being a complete novice at writing, began surprising us all with her raw and heartfelt prose about the difficulties and challenges in her life. She spared no one, primarily herself.

She emailed me after the class was over and thanked me for–well, I’ll be honest with you–I have no idea what she thanked me for. I didn’t do anything; it was all her. Her life, her words, her voice. She wrote me again about a month later–another e-mail with an attachment. She wanted to tell me that she had continued to observe our Monday afternoon class period as her writing time each week and sent along some of her latest work. Again, it was an amazing expression of thought and experience worded easily and evocatively in her precise prose.

This is the thing about writing: it’s a part of everyone’s life, not just the domain of a few so-called authors. What I’ve learned about writing is that it is a phenomenal experience by which we humans process our understanding of the meaning of life. This ability shows up in each of us in different ways, but it is as much a part of our nature as expressive beings as thinking and speaking. For me it is affirmed, semester after semester, class after class, student after student.

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