Expectations: Writing vs. Teaching

I have expectations as an author and I have expectations as an educator. One is not necessarily exclusive of the other, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see the two merge. That is until last Friday, when I delivered a presentation/lesson on plotting for fiction writing at a school different from my own (Queensbury for the locals).

As an author I expect to nail the nuts and bolts when writing. At this point I should have an easy ability to construct a story premise out of thin air and see how the foundation for it will emerge to support the rest. Once the foundation has been poured, I trust in my ability to design as I see fit. The story that rises will hopefully not be a cookie-cutter model, but rather, a distinct and intriguing dwelling. This can often take an extensive amount of revising, but that is fine, because everything stands on a firm base. I can tear down and begin again until it is complete.

As an educator, the goal is not about me. It is about what I can extract from my students. The constant thinking is: What can I do to tease out their knowledge of the topic? Along the way I facilitate this extraction and fill in the spaces where gaps in understanding exist. In short, I make them work in order to understand. If the following adage is true, this approach makes sense: “We remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we personally experience, 95% or what we teach others.”

Therefore, on Friday, I approached a Creative Writing class hoping that I could provide them with a way to build a foundation for story-writing through a lesson that centered on the higher end of the percentages.

It was intriguing, because I was not Mr. Devine. I was Eric, and I was there as an “expert” someone who has written multiple novels and short stories. This lent a credence to the lesson that I otherwise would not be afforded as a teacher. The irony, though, is that I don’t think I could have pulled off as good of a lesson if I only wrote and did not teach.

Regardless, my blend of advice from Anne Lamott and  her ABDCE structure, combined with Jo Knowles’s storyboarding, mixed with one of my short stories and then the students’ own designs, made for one fantastic class. Every student in the room walked away with the bones of a fully formed story–the structure.

I left feeling very accomplished, because as an author, I knew it was sound advice I had given, mostly because it wasn’t all my own. However, as an educator, I had no idea if what I did had any impact, because the time for feedback from the students was limited. Even though the majority of the lesson was focused on the 80-95% realm, I had no idea if it would stick.

I checked my work email on Sunday and found a message from a student in this class, who offered thanks for my appearance and then discussed his writing and shared links to his work on a popular teen writing site. He wanted feedback. He wanted to know if the structure was sound. He had worked his way through my lesson and then viewed his previous work in a different light. He had taken what he had learned and applied it.

Moments like this are few and far between for an English teacher. It’s difficult to know if students fully “get it” because comprehension and communication are processes that continue to develop through adulthood. But this was evidence that I had succeeded on both fronts.

I could not have been happier. My two expectations converged with success. Maybe I know what I’m doing? At least I did in that moment I did.

That’s an expectation I can live with.

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One thought on “Expectations: Writing vs. Teaching

  1. Reblogged this on Daybook and commented:
    Really interesting post detailing varying expectations, from the perspective of a teacher, and a writer. I found this post really applicable to our class discussions about the challenges teachers who are also talented writers face: how do you teach someone something that comes so easily to you?

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