The End of My Teaching Career...For Now
I flatter myself to think that some of you may have wondered why I didn't write about the end of the fiction writing class I taught. Since the end of the class, I've been mulling over what happened, what was said and the very fact that it all managed to happen at all. Sometimes it takes me a while to process things. I walked into that class at the beginning, not having any idea what to expect. I was scared, scared to fail, to be laughed at, misunderstood and not taken seriously. Looking back, I realize that those same fears are also what I walked into undergrad writing classes with, and what many of my students brought into my class.
I called on what I remembered from those undergrad classes, trying to somehow imitate those professors who had taken my fears and made them lighter. They had managed to turn each class from a group of strangers or acquaintances into a group of people who appreciated the writing of each member of the group, even if we didn't particularly like it, or them.
Amazingly, my class was like that too. By the end, they were talking and laughing together in their groups, it was all I could do to get them back to the larger setting, and when we tried to discuss, I wasn't faced with people who couldn't (or wouldn't) talk, as at the first class. These people wanted to make their voices heard, and they bounced off the comments of one another.
The third week was spent talking about writers' block and what to do if you get stuck. I made a handout and took them through several exercises. One of these exercises is as old as the hills: the random object assignment. I brought enough objects for each student and they each chose one blind and wrote a piece of fiction, using the object as a starting place, for about 25 minutes. We read them aloud at the end. There were the usual long and flowery descriptions of whatever the object was, but there were a few that absolutely stopped me in my tracks. One woman, using a small plastic chair for inspiration, wrote about the electric chair from the perspective of the chair. Another student (her object was a container of curry) wrote about a scene of unexpected prejudice in a small grocery store, yet another wrote about a very un-domestic FBI agent who was undercover as a housewife and needed to make a great deal of cupcakes (she had chosen a package of cupcake liners). My students amazed me, as they often did during the course of the four weeks we met together.
Our last class was spent in workshop. They read each others' work, made marks and discussed. I watched and listened to the creativity swirling around me. They had (mostly) caught it. In spite of some rather pointed comments from one student (who wanted to read the final pieces aloud), I had them read aloud their losing control stories (we had started them in the first class, basically, it was a story that was constantly changing hands, they were unable to control where it went). The class laughed, sighed and smiled throughout and I think that they were all surprised at how seamless the pieces sounded. Often, I was unable to pick up on where one person had begun and another ended. If they took nothing else away, I wanted them to take that: sometimes control in writing isn't all it's cracked up to be. You don't always need it.
We took a group picture, mostly because I always wanted to be able to look back on my first class ever. I'm sentimental like that. After the reading, the workshop and the picture, there were about 5 minutes remaining. I gave my speech, rehearsed over and over in my head about what a pleasure it had been and how I hoped they had taken something away. What I didn't say was that this class had changed the way I looked at things, and had been so interesting to observe, finding out little bits about people through the little they said at each class. I would miss them, and this. Then, I passed out the evaluations, quaking in my boots. This was a class with no grades, but I was still getting them. One by one (rather quickly, I thought) they finished, thanked me and walked out the door, leaving the stack of evaluations behind them. The receptionist made copies for me and I waited until I was safely home to read them over. Let's just say there wasn't anything written that should keep me from doing this again, and, come mid-April, I will be doing just that. I'll keep you posted.