Here’s an email from former student, Lara Wagner, who is teaching at Loyola U in Chicago. If you teach, you will connect. And if not, you will get an idea of “what this part is like.” Lara is a remarkable writer and student of literature. What a delight it would be to be one of her students!
Strangely, you have retired from teaching the same year that I am finally starting! Now I know what you mean about walking into a classroom, nervous to the core. Thankfully, I’m teaching a freshman composition class and they’re all pretty nice kids.
Oh goodness, Jack. How did you do this for so long? I love it, but I want SO MUCH for them and I’m running myself into circles trying to come up with creative ways to help them out. I know they can see and appreciate my effort, but I wonder if the effort will actually affect the product. How?
Today I came home with a stack of essays I had them write in class–the first thing they’ve written for me, just something small so that I could “get to know them in writing.” It sat on my desk during my office hours. I stared it down during lunch. Now I am back at my apartment and it’s waving at me from across the room. Never in my life have I been so afraid to read anything. It’s like I am about to start an archeological dig; I am thrilled and elated and scared and nervous and, most of all, without a clue what I will find beneath the soil.
Some part of me wants to put it off for the entire holiday weekend. Wouldn’t that be nice? No reading, no red pen, no comments to make. No evaluation of faulty logic, no absolute, ice-cold fear at thoughts like, “What does this need?” and “How do I help?” No back strain and squinting and spending too many hours extracting a response that comes from my heart and may very well never be read after the student sees the grade.
I guess the flip side is that then I’ll never know them, never see, never help, never prepare, never learn. No encounter with another person’s imagination. And even though this first week has been full of doubts, I kind of love teaching already. The first day of class, I overestimated how long it would take to go over the syllabus (how dry does that sound?) and scrambled to make use of time by having them write any questions or comments they had for me on scrap pieces of paper. One person wrote, “I love this class already,” and I thought, “Wow! I must be excellent at reading syllabi. Have I got the skills or what?” Hee hee. Honestly, I have no idea what prompted a response like that from that student, but it made me grin and think maybe I could somehow convince eighteen eighteen-year-olds that it’s worth it to roll out of bed for an 8:15 a.m. class about writing, writing and more writing.
I just looked at the top paper on my stack. The first sentence in her paper is “Imagine.”
Isn’t that nice?