Tuesday, May 18

Teacher Material?

This week's topic at TFC is schools. Tonight I'm going back to school... sort of. I'm teaching a writing course on character development at a place called StoryStudio in Chicago.

This is the second time I've taught this class so I'm not quite as terrified as I was the first time around... Not quite.

Teaching is a strange situation for me. It's not something I ever considered doing until I was talked into it when I started grad school. My personality is full of so many contradictions when it comes to taking on this kind of role. You see, though I don't mind reading my work to an audience and I acted in a few plays in junior high, naturally I'm a pretty shy person. I'm a ball of nerves before I step on stage or up to the podium or whatever, but then once I get going I'm fine. But when I'm reading or acting, I'm taking on another role. I'm no longer shy Stephanie, I am the character I am pretending to be or the character I'm reading about.

When I lecture or teach, it's a different situation. I'm still Stephanie. For the most part, after I get going I'm fine, but there is still a voice deep inside of me going, you are gonna screw this up. You are a fraud.

I think the thing is that I loved learning so much growing up and I revered so many of my teachers, I just don't think I'm cut out to do a job as amazing as they did.

I'm not as scared about this class tonight because I have done it before and last time the students even gave me a round of applause. Character development is something I pride myself on. I try to fully flesh out and get to know everyone that comes into my story and I have a lot of techniques and ideas to share. So I can do this (sorry this blog is turning into my personal pep talk, lol), but what I'm more concerned about is the semester-long Fiction 1 course at my alma mater, Columbia College Chicago that I am signed up to teach this fall.

I learned to teach at Columbia. As I mentioned I was sort of pushed into it. I'd been tutoring other students, which was scary enough but since it was one-on-one I felt more comfortable with it. Apparently they thought I was good at it so they wanted me to take the teacher training class. This involved me teaching writing to a class of fifth or sixth graders once a week for two semesters. I have to be honest, I did not like that. Some of the kids were absolutely amazing, don't get me wrong. But I spent so much time concerned that I would accidentally swear. And I had to dress up and make sure all of my tattoos were covered--any job where I have to do that generally ends up resented. I know teaching the college kids next fall will be different because I can swear and I can dress like myself and they will be there in the class (presumably) because they want to be. But I'm still terrified. It will be like opening night of a play every week. I'll have major stage fright and those feelings of fraud that I am nowhere near as good as the teachers I had at Columbia.

So why do I put myself through this? Two reasons. One, I love being around other writers. I want to share the knowledge I have gleaned about writing with them because I believe in giving back. And I find my students inspire me. Two, teaching is a good way for a writer to earn a living. It's a little more steady than bartending, so I want to see if it is something I could do. I'm considering fall semester at Columbia to be a trial run (if my class fills, part of me hopes it won't, but mostly I'm hoping it will) to see if I'm cut out for it though I do have a feeling that I'll be better at the occasional workshop like I'm doing with StoryStudio. That might be much more speed. And if I had to pick a field that I admired growing up that I could actually feel comfortable doing it would be librarian. That's something I still seriously consider though I would have to go back to school for that.

What about you, have you ever considered teaching? Or is there another job that you really really admire like I admire teachers, but fear you are not quite cut out for?


Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Hey, Teacher Steph - how cool are you??? I have thought about teaching but then as soon as I think about it, I think, "Where would I ever find the time?" Maybe someday when work and life is a little less hectic.

Sara Z. said...

Funny - I was just thinking about this. Virtually everyone in my family but me are teachers by profession. I do have some teaching something in my genes and have done corporate training, and online writing conferences. But there's something about it that really scares me and makes me uncomfortable. It's that fraud thing...combined with a sort of nuanced view about whether or not writing can be taught. BUT, it is a good way to add to income, and be inspired, and all that good stuff. So I'm trying to get over the fear part.

Alyson Noel said...

That's so great that you're teaching--your students have no idea the amount of awesomeness that awaits them! As for me, I've never considered teaching, I don't think I'd be any good at it, I'm not really a "look under the hood" kind of writer--I just hit the gas and drive!

Amanda Ashby said...

My boss at the library where I work part-time was telling me about a recent author visit. He writes midgrade/teen books and he used to be a science teacher in a past life.

Anyway, he used loads of science experiments to show how to write a book ie blowing a up a balloon to create tension and adding all these crazy unrelated ingredients, which suddenly all came together and turned a bright blue color!

Anyway, I think that some writers are gifted with being able to teach what they know in a cool and creative way and it totally sounds like you might be one of those people, Steph. So go with it and be fabulous like I know you are!!!!

Laurena said...

When I was younger (grade six or seven maybe) I wanted to be a teacher. It was all I ever thought about. I wanted to teach younger kids though, because I thought it would be so much fun, and you'd get the summers off every year.

But like you Stephanie, I am really shy when it comes to talking in front of people. So I decided to shoot for a career with less talking involved.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks for your confidence in me guys, the class went well.

Lauren, honestly that is the main reason why I feel iffy about teaching in the fall. Committing to once a week for 15 wks, that's a lot of writing time to give up. But I really can't bartend forever so...

Sara, I think certain tips about writing can be taught and that creative writers can be given a space where they feel comfortable exploring their craft and that's pretty much what I focus on when I teach. But it is still very scary!

ALyson, I love the kind of writer you are. I need to be like that more sometimes!

Amanda, what a cool story! I don't know if I'm as talented as that guy but I try to make class fun.

Laurena, agreed that all those parts of teaching do sound awesome. But yeah it sucks how being shy can really hold you back sometimes. That's why I lean more toward being a librarian, since it's more dealing with people one on one and I am way better at that!

Wendy Toliver said...

I bet you're a great teacher, Steph!
Glad to hear the class went well.

I love teaching. My mom is a teacher (retiring next week and so excited about it) and I used to sub. I think that's why I love giving school presentations (as an author) and volunteering at my sons' elem school so much!

Sara Hantz said...

Steph that's awesome you'll be amazing!!!

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