I look at my Teaching Assistantship in grad school with incredibly fond memories. I loved every second of it. And there was no reason not to. I had students who wanted to learn how to write and I had students who wanted to understand what they read. What writer doesn’t want to be around other writers? It was a dream.
Then I was faced with a class of students who didn’t want to know how to write, who hated reading and who hated me for forcing them to write and to read. It was shocking. It was scary. It was wonderful.
Teaching community college is like moving full circle for me. I came up out of community college. That was where I first decided to go back to school. Teaching community college students felt right. These guys have serious problems that they can’t escape. They have jobs. Some of them are older than me. They have rich and powerful stories that hinder their learning. I had to figure out ways to get them interested in writing and keep them interested. The key question was, how? And why should an MFA graduate go down this road, when there are so many other roads to go down?
At first, I thought I could treat them like my creative writing students. I game them my most favorite essays and sat back and waited for their brains to open up like gentle flowers.
Of course, they didn’t get it. It was like driving a truck straight into a heard of deer. What I loved about my creative writing students is that they wanted to be apart of the “Great Conversation”. I had to get my students to want to be apart of that conversation. If they didn’t want to be apart of it, I had to at least show them that there is a conversation, and they could be apart of it, if they wanted to.
Teaching is an option for the MFA graduate. I know plenty of MFAers that would much rather get that book published and float down the river of Advances and Book deals. That river is very shallow, and the boats that float on them tend to sink pretty quickly. Why not teach? Well, the money is garbage. So, don’t do it if you are stacking for an Escalade. Yes, there are very, very few teaching jobs for English and Writing graduates. All the jobs get taken quickly and are given away very rarely. Life for a writer is inherently hard. Try not to be surprised by that. But teaching is a joy. No matter what level or who they are, every student is a joy to teach. There might be a little Morgan Freeman coming out in me, but how can you not enjoy being around people who want to learn? That fact is the only reason I keep teaching.