The Conundrum (and Benefit) of Teaching While Writing or Writing While Teaching

I don’t know if I want these two categories together on the Blog because sometimes I’m not happy about their seemingly unbreakable bond in my life. While I love my students and get excited watching them learn and make discoveries about their learning and especially their writing, I spend a lot of time on preparation – time that takes me away from my own writing. Like now I’m working on blog stuff and a short story and a children’s book and a YA book and a novel and my plays (yes, probably doing way too much) but I’m conscious of the fact that I must stop soon and read my students’ stories.  Don’t get me wrong; I want to read them but wish I could be split in two, without damaging myself.  The conundrum of course is that in order to obtain tenure one has to publish! Remember the old adage – publish or perish.  In my life that is real talk.

My most recent pedagogical inspiration comes from presenters at HU’s “Orature, Literature, and Culture in the African Diaspora” symposium, which I attended with both my classes.

              Howard University is bae: When these things happen I often feel tres fortunate to be a part of this place even                 though I have quite the trek to get there.

One in particular, Dr. Adam Banks of Stanford was most impressive.   His premise (slightly paraphrased), “We must retire the essay as the main method of teaching writing,” was life-giving. I found it interesting in so many ways, though, that one of my students expressed concern about this statement during the Q&A because “students have a tendency to be lazy”. I disagree as here’s what I have found – most are not usually lazy if they are engaged and if I am engaged. That’s really what teaching is all about for me. I’m always looking for innovative ideas and activities. Banks discussed having students produce remixes and memes and structuring assignments to challenge them. (A colleague who also gave a great presentation titled “From Badman Ballad to Battle Rap” teaches a course on Hip-hop Poetics and they actually create remixes of The Coldest Winter Ever). Love these concepts!

I recently heard Mahershala Ali on Terry Gross discussing how he creates playlists for each of his movie/television roles. Voila! I emailed students that night to do the same for their main characters in the short stories they are writing. This I believe will make the characters more real to them which is a crucial but sometimes difficult concept.

When I get excited, though, my students have no choice but to follow suit, for the most part.

On the other hand, what stresses me most are the ones who don’t come to class or do the assignment incorrectly because they were absent when instructions were given and didn’t try to find out what they missed. Sorry not sorry for them.



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