Give that lady an apple!

8 Mar

AppleWriter friends, I tried to care. A week ago, a former creative writing professor reignited the are-we-really-talking-about-this-again “debate” over MFAs–stifling or inspiring, valuable or a waste, dirty trick or transformative validation? I can only assume it’s been a year, more or less, since the last gleeful festival of Who Gives a Shit, so we were due.

Ex-prof wants to spread a little hard-earned truth about MFA programs and writing, in what some are calling his “screed” or “rant.” But a screed has a pulse; a rant careens. I sensed no passion in his same ol’ same ol’ opinions and insensitive remarks, which might be why he failed to light the fire of commentary in me, despite my disagreement with just about everything he said. I finished the piece unmoved and wondering why this guy didn’t take his own advice, and decline to write about something he doesn’t understand: teaching. Which brings me to what inspired this post.

I was writing about something else when I stumbled over a response to “Things I Can Say…” that did make me care. Not about the same, warmed-over insults to writing students, certainly not about the perennially stupid argument about the value of an MFA. But about the glaring subtext of Ex-prof’s piece, which is that a man so full of contempt for students and their apprentice work should never have been teaching in the first place.

I can’t and won’t try to write something thoughtful about teaching, because I don’t have the experience to do the subject justice. But Laura Valeri does. Her reply to Ex-prof, “Those Who Teach, Can,” reminded me forcefully of the extraordinary writing teachers I have studied with, all of whom treated me, my apprentice work, and my particular version of writing ambition with profound respect. In Valeri’s post, I felt passion–for teaching and for her students–in every line. Some of my favorites:

* …the true challenge of teaching is that we want to reach every student, not just students who already have success spelled on their foreheads and were already self-motivated to start early.

* I could never be satisfied taking a salary paid in large part from student tuitions and resign myself to “making them better readers.” This has been the standard, pass-the-buck response of too many privileged writers who were assigned their teaching positions based on the record of their publications with little to no scrutiny given to their teaching philosophy and approach to the classroom.

* If you fail, it’s on you. Don’t blame the students. They showed up. Did you?

If you have any desire to teach writing, you should do yourself the favor of reading her thoroughly excellent post.

All hail good writing teachers. They are GOLD.

2 Responses to “Give that lady an apple!”

  1. cynthia March 10, 2015 at 6:31 PM #

    Terrific post. I’ve been lucky to have wonderful teachers along the way. So it’s nice to read your salute. I was just thinking the other day, I might like to try my hand at teaching one of these days. Thanks for the link to Laura’s site.

    • Claire Guyton March 11, 2015 at 9:49 AM #

      You’d be such a good teacher, Cyn. Ever think of running a very small workshop from your home? Or a local public spot like a quiet cafe or library? There are so many models.

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