As a teacher, the most exciting moments for me are when my plan for a given course—my objectives, lecture notes, writing exercises, etc.—falls away. At that moment in the classroom, finding a way to adapt to student needs, aptitudes, and responses transforms a transaction into an exchange. That is why I teach.
I believe effective teaching is a combination of careful planning, clear outcomes, and the willingness to listen to your students. Clear goals allow you to better assess what students have achieved and how well they have mastered the skills you set out to teach them— in addition to giving you criteria for evaluating your own performance.
For a typical creative writing or professional development seminar, I employ several different teaching methods, including a brief lecture—aided by PowerPoint slides or white board notes— and group discussion. As the discussion evolves, student responses are integrated in the form of an associative map or flowchart of ideas. I also almost always work directly with a text, either one that has been read in advance, or one short enough to share in the classroom.
For semester-long classes, I’ve found that thematically organized units help students to engage with material (for example, a unit that uses excerpts of first person narrative across a range of diverse voices and time periods). Doing so allows students to develop a sense of mastery over course content and to apply writing techniques in a variety of ways. In addition to the methods discussed above, I also use the more collaborative and peer-oriented writing workshop and occasionally break students into smaller groups to focus on a specific project. I view reading as essential to the practice of writing and draw extensively from sample texts to highlight craft elements and strategies students might apply to their own work.
I’ve taught undergraduate composition, creative writing, and literature in addition to graduate seminars and continuing studies courses. In my former role as Associate Director of the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program I helped to develop the graduate writing curriculum, which included foundation classes in four genres: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and writing for children and young adults. I also collaborated with a faculty member to create an Applied Track in Pedagogy for students interested in teaching at the college level.
My goals as a writing teacher are ultimately to establish a classroom environment that promotes mutual respect and a willingness to take risks, and to equip students with the skills they need to learn from their peers, from fellow writers, and ultimately, on their own, because writing is often a solitary task. I encourage students to develop critical (and constructive) reading and thinking skills. I also help them to create strategies for developing new work, while emphasizing the craft elements and writing techniques that will allow them to revise. Most important, I try to ensure that students leave my classroom feeling encouraged to pursue their own vision and inspired to continue engaging with other writers and the literary community.
In my work with individual writers, I think my greatest strength lies in seeing the hidden, or submerged story in an early draft and finding a way, gently, to ask questions the writer may not yet be asking of a work-in-progress. Intuition is not a measurable, quantifiable skill, and yet I believe it to be essential for a teacher working with artists. I think of it as another form of listening.