I know that I don’t blog as much as I ought to anymore, but hey. That’s life. However, if you’ve been watching our Bibliomancer videos (or just seen Michaela’s great thumbnails for recent episodes) then you know that I missed on regularly scheduled episode on Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions AND the first of our ten part Nostalgia Junkie special with the Pendragon books. I promised in each of those posts that I would get around to tell you all where I’ve been.
That promised time is now.
I’m going to diverge for a second, though, and give some context for what’s about to follow. As you may or may not know, I am an English and Writing double major at Ithaca College–about to be a senior. This means I have two more semesters before I get spit out into the big, wide world. I always maintained that what I wanted was to be a teacher. Always.
And it had started to seem like a problem.
I follow these blogs on Tumblr for English majors, and sometimes they hold Q&As. The most popular question is: what can I do with an English degree besides teach? Because that’s the joke. Majoring in English? Must what to teach. But that’s NOT true. Except, that’s what I thought I wanted. Until the five hundredth time I heard that joke, and then I wasn’t so sure.
Did I just want to teach because I didn’t think I could do anything else?
So, last semester I applied to be a teaching assistant and a resident assistant for the Ithaca Writer’s Institute. This two week long venture would see me living and breathing high school writers, helping to teach them fiction as well as keep them in line in the dorm. I would have nowhere else to go. It was sort of terrifying.
And I got the job.
So two weeks ago, on July 4th, I drove my way back up to Ithaca and moved in and waited. Either my dreams were about to become reality, or they were going to crash and burn in spectacular fashion. But, either way, I was going to have to teach and see if I could actually do it on every possible level.
I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly didn’t get it. The experience had some low points, sure, but they weren’t low as much as … weird and absurd. My fabulous fiction professor-partner (Jacob White from the Ithaca Writing Department) described the high schoolers as shook up champagne we just popped the cork off of and he was correct.
Most of it, though? Most of it was pretty damn high.
Early on, I got to teach my own 2 hour craft class, and it was one of the more terrifying things I’d ever done. I punted, passed, and kicked my way through it, feeling at times that it was going horribly and other times that it was going wonderfully. But every kid I asked afterwards loved it. My only critique was that it had been “too fun,” allowing some kids to get rowdy. At the final reading, one of the kids read what “Gretchen inspired me to write” in the class.
Later on in the week, I got to do my own workshops. Jacob split the class in half and handed me eight kids, saying I could handle the process however I wanted. DO YOU KNOW how TERRIFYING that is? But it went … so well.
A few days ago, this one girl from the Institute emailed me. This girl and I had made some special connections over the two weeks, but I don’t want to spill personal details on the web. So let me just say that this girl was the biggest affirmation of my teaching and LOVE of teaching that I had for the whole two weeks. (Also, this kid is going to be published some day, let me tell you. I hope she remembers me then. Anyways.) She called me one of the best mentors that she’d ever had and a natural teacher, among many other overly generous things.
I woke up to that email. Which means I woke up, read the email and immediately started crying.
I am one of those people who tends to just know what I want. I might not know how I’m going to get it, but I know that I want it. But after three years of doubt and questioning from the outside world, I wasn’t sure of myself anymore. That is one of the most disastrous things that the world can do to you, if you let it. And I had let it.
I want to teach because being in front of a classroom is exhilarating to me. I want to teach because feeling like I’ve helped just one person from this whole two week experience is the best feeling I have ever known. I want to teach because the idea that multiple kids from these two weeks connected to me and what I was saying and learned from me is the most mystical real magic to me. I want to teach because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
After our last class, this girl came up to me, hugged me, and said thank you in my ear a few times. I said “You’re welcome,” because I was stunned and that’s what you say, right? But a huge thank you goes back to her, as well. Teaching isn’t always magical and wonderful–nothing is. But the idea that, every once and a while, I could have that kind of thing is worth fighting for.
In a world that kept asking me “Is this really what you want to do?”, that made me ask myself “Can I really even do this?” … I needed to know. I needed to know if I could teach, if I wanted to teach. For the first one, I think I’m on the right track. For the second one?
And that’s the important thing. That I do what I want and feel confident in what I want. So thank you to all my ducklings from over these past two weeks. Someone once said that the best teachers learn from their students–so while I might not be the best teacher, I am most certainly grateful for the learning from my students bit. There are only strong steps from here.