I’ve been writing about my early teaching years. Below is a WP selection.
I started writing again my second year of teaching. I filled one or two notebooks that year. I couldn’t think what to write unless it was a draft example for my freshmen or sophomores. My classroom was next to the Spanish room and Karla was patient and kind to me for the three years we were neighbors. Between periods, we’d chat in the hall. I got to know her like that and on inservice days, during after school activities and on shared car rides. Karla had four little kids at home. She talked about weekend birthday parties, family dinners, trick-or-treat. There were a few women I knew during that time that I looked at and thought that’s what grown up meant.
One day I found out she’d taught English but switched to Spanish. Students choose to take a second language, she said. I got it. It makes a difference, to teach a class students elect. I taught required English, ambivalent about my job every third day. Karla told me about a friend who’d quit because his students sucked his love of literature dry. This was a passing period conversation, an offhand anecdote of my fear. The bell rang.
I remember introducing writing practice to my students at that school. I wasn’t sure how it would work when we started because I lacked a steady practice. But we began anyway, ten minutes at a time. I learned to write again.
When I started writing again, with my students, I decided not to stop. I thought about that teacher Karla mentioned, wondered if he’d quit writing poetry or reading dense Russian novels because he had to grade American lit analytical essays. Even then, over a decade ago, I had a sense that if I let go my own reading and writing, I’d resent the profession cutting into the two pleasures that made me want to teach English at all.
I just finished reading a bunch of student poetry, first fruits of consistent WP. I’m encouraged by how many of my students went for it, playing with metaphor, sound and form. And I’m reminded again how tough it is to put ourselves on the page, to choose honesty over fear. Years ago, a student left her notebook for me to read. I still remember what she told in her bubbled script. I finished reading and cried. Sometimes writing our selves on the page is enough but this girl needed more. So we all do, when our admission, memory, dream, want, fear, joy, insecurity or hope whispers share me. I want to know why that is, for my students and me, and for others who write lovely / interesting unread things. I think about that girl who left her notebook, or a few of my students whose poems I just read. I peek into the lives sitting in desks in front of me. There is honor and pleasure to this work.