Monday, March 1, 2010

Teaching explosion

I love my students. Okay, not all of them. Some don't try and I wonder why they bothered paying tuition if they're going to write non-sense or not submit work. But collectively, I love them.


Tonight was amazing. Quite possibly the most amazing teaching night I have ever had.

Like when one man was talking about coming back to school with the GI Bill and what prompted the decision, and I just wanted to cry and hug him after he told his story. I was so happy to be there, being his teacher. What an honor to meet some of these students, to be part of their stories. Part of their path to personal excellence.

Tonight was an explosion of teaching wonder. There were so many things in all different directions. The 3 hours just flew by. It was the first night of class, so there was this optimism and newness in the air. I could see their nervousness melting (I wasn't some fuddy-duddy English teacher), and their curiosity piqued (really, I don't care about grammar details?). I was connecting with them, and it felt like the start of something really important.

We did pre-writing to find a topic for their personal narrative, due next week. Then I talked about paragraph development. Then they started working individually, and I just walked around helping each student tweak their writing path.

And that one student! What happened to him in the one-hour span. Who he became as a writer. It was so beautiful, truly, that I don't know where to begin.

It started out as a bunch of jumbled sentences, each one about a different HUGE topic. His heart wanted to write a book, because there were so many things he wanted to say. Parenthood, childhood, going to war, obstacles in his life. I circled different words on his notebook page, each one a different topic. And showed him how he could write a paper on ONE tiny portion of the paper. That all of it is important, it just doesn't all fit in 300-500 words. Pick a tiny little portion of his story, and then go from there. We drafted a possible outline together.

I went on to the next student, and then the next. Everyone's pen was moving. The class was electric.

And then he came up to me, after I let the class go. And he had written a page of the most perfect, heart-felt, well-structured writing. He saw what I meant, and each paragraph was its own topic. A perfect topic. And the words came together.

Giving him that structure let his writing come alive. And reading it, I gasped out loud. "This is marvelous! You're...really good!" He could see I was sincere. His entire posture changed. I saw him come to life, and I LOVE THAT PART OF TEACHING. It's about human evolution, and I get to be in the front row for that.

I might get stressed sometimes about grading deadlines, or feel the drudgery when I wade through a pile of crap papers that students shot out in the last minute. It's usually funny and entertaining, but it's not always easy to see my purpose in teaching.

Tonight, I was reminded. It's so much like motherhood. Chaos and drudgery and long periods where you don't see the "end goal"...but then, in these flashes of fabulousness, you're reminded why you do it. Why you show up. Why 90% can be nothing that special, but the other 10% just makes it so worth it.

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