What Does It Mean To Teach Writing?

Poe

Poe was a great writer. But what does the art of writing even mean?

“What do you teach?”

I often get asked this question when I tell people that I am a professor. My answer typically goes from “I teach English,” to the more specific “I teach writing.”

With the end of the semester fast approaching, I have thought about what it is that I teach. Yes, I teach writing. But what does that mean?

There are, of course, the many concepts that I incorporate and teach to my students. Bias, appeals, audience, tone, thesis, revision, peer review…these are seemingly standard fare in the particular course that I teach. I could get even more general and say that I teach students how to analyze a text, research a topic, and write about themselves in a thoughtful, self-reflective manner.

More than that, though, what I teach is critical thinking. Critical thinking may sound like a simple enough concept, but it’s actually rather complex in that it requires students to engage with a text and/or topic in a way that goes beyond simply reading and looking stuff up on the Internet. Critical thinking involves thinking beyond the self so as to widen the lenses individuals use to comprehend information. And it’s not just students who are tasked with this; as an instructor, I, too, have the responsibility to constantly view information and situations from different perspectives.

To answer the question I originally set out, I teach the product of many discussions, drafts, edits, revisions, and challenges: voice. Because to teach writing is to teach voice. How to have one and how to effectively use it.

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On Trying to Avoid Freaking the Freak Out: Project Thankful #226

Tomorrow is the start of classes for students.  My students.  The 24 students who are signed up to take my class where am listed as the Instructor.  Tomorrow is also the start of classes for myself as well since I am a student as well as an Instructor.

Yeah, I am trying really hard not to freak the freak out right now.

Everything right now is a hazy, abstract image characterized by fluctuating swirls of constants.  I know what I have planned for my students tomorrow.  I know what my homework is for my classes.  I know when my assignments are due.  Yet, what I know keeps being shuffled around by what I feel.  I feel nervous, confident, insecure, inauthentic, knowledgable, and experienced all at once.  Mingled with those constants I listed, and I am somewhere between being grounded in the reality of my situation and gasping for oxygen at the high altitude of the mountain of my current anxiety.

What’s keeping me from totally freaking the freak out?  Fear.

I know, pretty weird answer to give.  But fear is something that can be controlled.  It’s something that must be understood in order to dissect its electric tendrils, examining the triggers so as to formulate a way to respond to them and their aftermath.

And so fear is what is keeping me from totally freaking the freak out.  More specifically, my understanding of my fear.  Fear of failure is one of my biggest fears I carry; tomorrow’s situation is exacerbating that fear. Yet, what’s keeping me from being paralyzed by this fear is my experience with this particular type of fear.  Heck, I’ve been dealt some crappy cards in my life, and sometimes I’ve made crappy decisions with those cards.  But whatever happened, I made it through to the next level.

“There has yet to be a problem that has ended the world.”  That’s what I tell students and others when talking about school related anxieties.  It’s not just the world, however; the same applies to my world.  I keep moving forward, through the fears, anxieties, and pressures I face.  Because that’s all any one of us can do.

Project Thankful: Reason #161

Yesterday was not the best day at work.  The students were feeling “It’s almost summer!” big time, and it showed.  By the end of the day, I was ready to go home.

During the last block of the day, I helped a student edit their English project, an autobiography of their life.  One chapter they wrote was called “My Saddest Memory.”  His saddest memory was his grandmother passing away.  When I was editing the chapter, I was struck by how personal the memory was and how much emotion he put into writing it.  I would look at him, giving him comments, and I could see how invested he was in writing the chapter.

It’s seeing students really engage in their writing that reaffirms why I love working with students.  They turn an otherwise bad day into one with a silver lining.

Project Thankful: Reason #150

Since learning that I received a Teaching Assistantship and will be teaching first year writing in the fall, my brain has been a flurry of ideas on how to teach the class.

Popular culture is one of my areas of interest, and I would love to incorporate that into the class.  I often wonder where my interest in popular culture stems from.  Truth is, I would have to say my childhood.  I have an older sister, and there is a five year age difference between us.  Growing up, that’s a big difference, and that difference translated into my TV and movie preferences.

I watched what my older sister watched, and I was into what my older sister was into for the most part.  As an adult, I look back and am grateful to my sister for having influenced my media choices.  Years later, and those choices have become roots from which my academic interest in popular culture sprouted.

Thanks sis.