Really, as much as I like to say I missed my calling of teaching history,* what I really missed out on was teaching writing. True, I’ve not really been published,** but I think I have a very good feel for writing and writers. And, I suppose, that has a lot to do with my own education.
*Don’t get me wrong. That’s still totally true.
**I’ve done a fair amount of self-publishing, though. This blog included.
I alluded to it in an aside on Monday. I had amazing writing teachers in college, mostly Dr. Joy Castro and Dr. Thomas Campbell. They each taught and, I’m sure in related fashion, wrote in different styles. Dr. Castro taught short fiction, Dr. Campbell taught personal essays. I loved them both greatly and for different reasons. But, in the end, much of the teaching was the same. You take the day’s story or essay, discuss it as a class, and everybody grows. Plus, there’s the benefit of having the author there to clarify ambiguous points and to point out something if it were missed. Or defend choices that were made, whatever the case may be.
But, in the end, there was an important rule in all of it. The author doesn’t get to speak until the class has finished their discussion. It’s a bit of an exhilarating feeling being the author in these situations. It’s about the closest thing you can get to a fly on the wall. And that only gets better as the class goes on. At first, the other students are more conscious of your presence, but as the semester wore on, they generally ignored you were there until you got to say your piece. Some stories were hits, some stories were failures, some stories were just okay. All of the feedback, positive or negative, was very worthwhile. I can’t speak for everybody, I suppose, but I never felt like it got personal. All the reasons for feedback were reasoned out and explained. I don’t think anybody came away with hurt feelings if they put in a bad story. They just learned how to do it better or maybe just to take an idea and stick it in the back pocket for a while.
I ended up minoring in creative writing. I would have been a double major in it and history if I had the chance. I had always loved writing and did it often in high school. But, I had no guidance but my own. Covington was (and is) a very small high school, offering only more or less what the state requires. For those that don’t know me, I ended up taking half days my senior year and spent the afternoons taking a class at DACC in the afternoons.* I don’t think that hurt my cause when applying to Wabash, but really, the only reason I did that was because I had pretty well taken everything Covington had to offer. I’d satisfied the demands of getting an academic honors diploma, so what was going to benefit me more, filling up my afternoons with home ec and study halls, or take a higher level class a few days a week?
*DACC is Danville Area Community College, the local junior college to my hometown. For the even more curious, I took Introduction to Humanities first semester, and Speech second semester. I took one speech (actually Rhetoric) class at Wabash and loved it and loved my professor. Unfortunately, I could never really fit more rhetoric into my schedule later on. That’s always made me a bit sad to think about.
One of those things that apparently the state didn’t require was a writing class. Sure, we wrote papers in history and English classes. But those were formal* papers. Full MLA formatting and all that. There was no place for creative writing, either through a club or class or anything like that. And that’s something I think I truly missed.
I honestly don’t know how common high school level creative writing classes are. Maybe they’re at most schools, maybe it’s only bigger schools in bigger towns. I don’t know. But it’s something I truly missed in high school that I think would have been beneficial, given the right teachers and the right group.* It’s always been a bit of a dream of mine to go back and teach writing at Covington. Give the next generation(s) something I didn’t have. An outlet I didn’t have.
*Who knows. I was painfully shy and generally uncomfortable with myself in high school. Maybe I would’ve pretty well bombed creative writing because I didn’t mesh with everybody. But, I don’t think so. I was always quick to take the reigns when I had a chance to write creatively. Even if sometimes my scenes went on a little long. I’m sure you couldn’t imagine.
Now, chances are I wouldn’t be grooming the next Vonnegut or anything. There would probably be more thinly-veiled Twilight and Fifty Shades* fan fiction than anything. But, there is great benefit to teaching kids how to become authors. It will help in their other papers. It greatly aids their reading, as they’ll begin to really learn the mechanics of storytelling themselves, which you can apply across media. And, maybe most importantly, when you write something good, and damned near every story has at least something good about it, it’s a huge confidence booster. It really lets you know that you have some talent to foster and grow. Even if its meager, it’s something.
*Yikes. That could get dicey at the high school level, but I’ll bet a lot of high schoolers have read it.
And to the other kids, it’s a great boon to learn how to discuss. If you come into college already knowing how to intelligently discuss a work, whether it be fiction or not, you are ahead of the game. This is a great way to ease into that sort of discussion. And it will come off as more immediate, more meaningful when you’re discussing something written by your peers instead of some author that died a hundred years ago. It’s a way to make kids care about what they’re reading and what they’re discussing. I know I didn’t read most of what was put in front of me in high school. I just picked up from people discussing the book around me what the general direction was and made a couple points. Also an important skill, but one that maybe doesn’t need to be picked up in school.
Okay, this is getting a bit long, and I’m not sure I really made any points. But I put some thoughts out there, maybe a few of them are worthwhile. Discuss it amongst yourselves.