As this semester comes to a close, I think I’ve come to a decision about my teaching career, and I think that decision is that it’s basically over.
1. I’m skeptical that writing is learned effectively in a typical classroom setting.
Writing is learned by epiphany: you try different things and see which ones feel right. Sometimes that’s accelerated by placing yourself in the path of possible epiphany, writing a lot and reading a lot and also perhaps through classes or writing books. But in my too-large classes with students of vastly different abilities and interest levels, it’s almost impossible to do anything but present the broadest (one size fits none) principles.
2. The only classes I can teach as an adjunct are the very basic ones that serve as general English credit, so 80% of my students have no interest in writing, certainly not getting better at it.
And I have no idea what to do with them. Try to reinforce the basics of grammar and punctuation that they never learned? Encourage them to be more creative, though they don’t give a shit? Focus on the 20% who are interested in writing instead? I never know.
3. I’m not giving my students what they need, which is mostly time.
Adjuncting is my part-time job pursued in the evenings after eight hours at my regular one, and what the students need most is hours of individual mentorship in everything from where commas go to how to send stories off for submission. I do the best I can with manuscript comments, but the best success I’ve had has been during casual one-on-one conversations with individual students: “What’s up with you and semicolons?” I simply don’t have the time to do that with a full time job in addition to teaching.
4. I don’t like reading people’s unfinished manuscripts.
Basically my students need to be told one of two things: “Keep doing this” and “Stop doing that.” The problem is that they hand in work that is way too close to composition so I’m telling them things they’d probably fix themselves in a rewrite. I never feel like I’m saying enough of the right things at the right time.
5. I don’t need the money as much as the other adjuncts.
Adjuncts are paid for shit, and many of the ones at my university work multiple teaching gigs all over town. Every time I teach a class for my credit card money, that’s one less that some poor bastard living off this shit will get.
6. There are standards and rigidity and accountability coming.
To their credit, my English department is trying to establish a baseline of actual repeatable results for the students, but all I want to do is say weird funny things about writing until someone accidentally learns something. It’s only a matter of time before calling myself “the Hannibal Lecter” of the English department or saying Halloween is Satan’s birthday results in a complaint and a long awkward talk.
7. It upsets me that students don’t leave my class cheering or weeping with the inspiration to write.
Hideous confession time: I am far more motivated by entertaining people than teaching them (mostly because the results of the former are way clearer than the latter).
8. Yes, it saps time and energy from writing.
Though I did manage to rewrite a novel this year with some better time management, my day job suffered a little and the writing could have gone better.
One reason I might teach again:
If I get an opportunity to teach/mentor a smaller group of motivated students in the way I want — “Hey, let’s hang out and write and read what we’ve got and talk about it” — I’d jump at it.
You learn writing by doing it a lot, trying new things, being honest with yourself about the results, and getting firm feedback from someone experienced that you trust. If I could help that, it might be worth it…to me and to the students.