For the past almost seven years, ever since graduating from Hamline’s MFAC program, I’ve taught college composition. Thesis statements, rhetorical analysis, research, MLA citations. I’ve enjoyed it. I have helped many reluctant writers become more confident and find ways to enjoy the process. But I’ve become so focused on my teaching that I’ve forgotten my favorite part of writing: play.
This school year I’ve been teaching full time in a high school. Three of my classes are college dual enrollment courses, two are college comp and the other is world literature. I’m also teaching two creative writing classes.
Teaching creative writing is not what I imagined. I imagined I’d walk into a room of teenage versions of myself: kids who take writing seriously. Kids who enjoy writing.
However, that is not the case. Students must have full course schedules, even if the elective they are interested in is full. Many of my students were placed in creative writing just to fill a hole in their schedule. There’s a good number of students who like writing, but the other half or more definitely does not.
I started the year with highly structured lesson plans that required deep analysis and experimentation with skills far beyond the reach of the reluctant writer. The result? They didn’t do the work. I felt defeated, frustrated. Teaching creative writing is one of those jobs that sound so appealing to a writer, you get to spend the day talking about this craft that you love, inspiring others to love it too. But I wasn’t inspiring anyone, especially not myself.
Workshopping short stories began to open the students up. It helped me learn all their names (finally!) and it provided more inspiration than any of my formal lessons. And it made my reluctant writers feel heard.
Recently we moved on to poetry, and now my approach is completely different. On our first day we watch poetry slam videos of Elizabeth Acevedo and others. On the second day we made poetry out of carnival tickets with words written on the back. On the third I loudly and expressively read Allen Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” and then we destroyed magazines making black out poetry. Suddenly students who haven’t read all year are raising their hands. This is working.
It’s working because it’s play. And I am there, playing along with them. My students have reminded me not to take writing so seriously. I started writing as a kid because it was fun. Teaching creative writing has made it fun again.