24 October 2012

Like a Veal

This is what they think I do.

Teach.  Verb.  "To impart knowledge of or skill in, to give instruction."

I get mad at my students when they start an essay with a dictionary definition, especially when they are giving a definition that is obvious or doesn't add to what they're trying to say.  But this time, surprising as it may be, it is relevant. 

I have had the following conversation in one form or another on several occasions with parents and students.  It goes as follows:

Student/Parent: I am/my child is dropping your Creative Writing class. 

Me: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.  (Aside: sometimes.)  Why?

Student/Parent: I am/my child is a free spirit.  They don't like being told what to write, they thought they would just be able to write fun stories in your class.  

My response to this is generally a polite "Thank you, hope you/your child enjoys whatever class they transfer into."  My internal response, though, is always rather bewildered. 

Let me explain.  I have been thinking about this for a while because it's kind of bugging me.  In no other class that I can think of do parents or students expect not to be taught something.  You join an art class, you expect the teacher to give you some new techniques to try.  You join a French class, you assume that teacher is going to give you vocabulary and speaking lessons.  Basketball.  You expect drills.  English - you expect the teacher to instruct you in better grammar and organization/presentation of ideas.  Math.  Science.  Theater.  You expect those kind of things. 

But not so with Creative Writing.  People seem to think that Creative Writing is a class in which I, as a teacher, will sit in my rolly chair like a veal and smile and give cookies to students who write stories and put them up on the refrigerator in my office with a gold star on them for all the world to see.  They don't expect me to give prompts, to give lessons, to corral ideas into something manageable in a few pages.  It's the only class I teach where people are surprised that I'm teaching.  Like it's this revolutionary idea that writing well, particularly for beginning writers, requires some instruction.

That kind of teaching would be absurd in other classes.  Can you imagine a parent coming to a violin teacher that has been carefully instructing classes about scales before allowing them to touch, say, Mahler, and have the parent pull the student because the student just wants to play for fun and doesn't care how pretty it sounds?  No.  

Anyway.  Random post for a random day.  Here's another random thought: people tell me I'll go straight to heaven because I teach junior high.  I tell them no.  It's not me.  It's the beginning orchestra teachers.  They get dibs.  And I know this because last year my room was next to the beginning orchestra room.  


Lisa said...

Love the "While You Were Sleeping" reference, Joni! Joe Jr. would be proud.

I agree that it is a bit perplexing that parents/students feel that way. I thought your explanation was appropriate and think you should use it as a disclaimer at the beginning of each course.

elliespen said...

Oh, my. Yes. Yes to all of this.

(I also appreciated the references to both "While You Were Sleeping" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off.")