There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can't move, and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies. —Robert Frost
In third grade, I had a mean teacher. One day, she told me to look up a word in the dictionary that began with the letter Q. I hesitated a moment, reviewing the alphabet in my head to remember which letter Q came after, and she said, snarkily, “You don’t know the alphabet?”
“No, I do,” I told her. “I’m just thinking…”
“You don’t know the alphabet,” she said, and called on someone else.
I was humiliated. Now, there is a certain kind of story in which the narrator would tell you that this moment made them determined to learn the alphabet better than anyone had ever learned it before. Backwards! Forwards! Diagonally! Fibonacci sequence correlated to alphanumeric code!
I am not that person.
That moment made me hate that teacher and harbor a grudge that has lasted forty years. What was the point of that? I knew the alphabet, and even if I didn’t—that moment would only have made me feel embarrassed and terrible. It would not have taught me anything.
Last January, I began teaching creative writing at Simmons University. My students were engaged and enthusiastic writers, and once again I realized that teaching is an honor and also an incredible opportunity. I love teaching because I learn so much by doing it, not only about writing, but also about how to be collaborative and offer feedback that feels supportive and useful.
I’m in a small writing group with professional writers, and we are all constantly teaching one another. Writing is an art with no terminal moment of mastery. Every project demands new, different skills. When you’re a writer, you’re always learning, and every project is a new teacher.
Starting September 15, I’ll be part of the faculty at Whale Rock Workshops, offering a Mentorship Semester. I’ll only be taking on three students as part of this program, which offers:
- feedback on 120 pages of your novel manuscript,
- optional virtual writing groups several times a week
- master lectures/workshops led by me and the other faculty
If you’re ready to make a commitment to yourself and your writing, I’d love it if you would join me this fall. I know we have a lot to teach each other.