Teaching on Teaching

This short essay is part of a series called ‘Writing on Writing.’ This series takes a few different forms, and in this post, I’m discussing my teaching practice. Want to see content like this more often? Consider supporting me on Patreon.

Currently, I’m doing a very short stint with a non-profit that provides free creative writing education to students K-12. Courses are taught by college students who are paid a bit of a stipend. Over the past month, I’ve been helping to train those college students on teaching. While working with the non-profit isn’t a good fit for me long-term, it’s been interesting to think about how you teach someone to teach.

The gap that I was supposed to be filling was helping these college students with the more performance-like parts of teaching. In the past, it seems students were so nervous on their first day, that the session ended up being a bit of a wash. I was asked to help fix that.

To that end, I came up with two little lesson plans that I thought would help. First, a mini-workshop on breaking down fears, and second, a short lecture on the ‘instructor persona.’ And, of course, in the process, I ended up reflecting a lot on my own fears and instructor persona.

I absolutely love teaching. Working with this non-profit hasn’t been the best experience overall, but being in front of students has been excellent. For whatever reason, I ended my teaching experience at Columbia feeling a tad negative about the whole thing. I never felt particularly balanced while I was teaching that class. It took so much out of me, even though it was only one class and work and theoretically, it was in the exact subject that I cared the most about. Because of that, I was left with this fear that teaching wasn’t something I could do, not while I wanted to write and read books and watch a lot of movies and have enough jobs to make a full-time income. 

The thing about that fear, though, is that it’s fortune-telling. I’m predicting that all teaching opportunities will be impossible for me to balance. And as much as I love tarot, I do recognize that I can’t literally predict the future in this way. Fortunately, I got a chance to dispel this fear in practice, by working with this non-profit. It was silly to think every teaching experience would be the same and hard to balance because things are always different and always changing. Balance, I’m finding, comes with practice.

As for the ‘instructor persona,’ that’s just a fancy way of seeing that teaching feels a lot like a performance to me. I did a lot of acting when I was younger, even into my first year of undergrad, so in that way, it’s a fitting metaphor for me. But I think it’s useful for everyone to think about teaching that way.

Here’s how I explained it to the kids I was working with-

Kameron, me, the person typing right now, is generally very quiet. I’m not naturally inclined to be effusive, or talkative, or laugh and smile a lot. But Kameron the Teacher is all of those things! I laugh a lot, I smile a lot, I say dumb things to get students to engage with me. Kameron the Teacher is a role I’m playing. A role based in my actual person, but still a role.

I think it really helps to think of yourself as being different, even a bit removed, from the teacher. Because Kameron the person would take it really personally if the kids weren’t paying attention, or if they didn’t like a lesson, or if they didn’t come by office hours. Kameron the Teacher doesn’t care about the stuff. There’s no need to take anything personal, because there’s nothing personal about it. Kameron the Teacher isn’t real, so if students don’t like them, who cares? (I mean, I care later, but in the moment I don’t).

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about these past few weeks, all of which is extremely relevant because I’m considering designing some online courses about writing. I’ve also introduced a new Writing Mentorship service that would allow me to work with people one-on-one in real time. It’s all still a tad in development, but I’m excited about it, and that’s the most important thing.

Let me know if y’all have any thoughts about the type of courses that I could offer. So far I’m thinking a ‘short story 101’ type class, and a course on writing spec fic. Maybe a mini-course on teaching? Your thoughts on any of that would be greatly appreciated as I start to develop this idea!

All my love and gratitude as always.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s