So that’s why I do it. . .

I love to teach. More specifically, I love to teach writing. Truly. Although it is work-intensive and tiring at times, I actually feel energized when I’m in the classroom. . .usually.

Occasionally, though, I wonder if I’m any good at what I’ve chosen to do, especially when classes don’t go as smoothly as I hoped. Yesterday, I had one of  those days: everybody was low-energy in the classroom, including me; I felt foggy and unsure of what I was saying; and eventually, I waved the white flag and ended class early.

Then, the questioning began: “I can’t really do this, can I? Come on, I can’t even make descriptive writing interesting. There’s a problem here.” After a few minutes, though, I stopped. I stopped because I realized something: over the last few days, I’d been contacted by two former students who wanted my advice.

The first student had transferred from my school to a larger state school with a wider variety of majors, and he was panicked because he wasn’t sure what he wanted to major in. He sent me a message via Facebook asking for my advice; the message started “So this is a little random, but I figure you’re a good person to ask.” I responded with words of encouragement and my opinions about picking a major–breathe; don’t rush into anything; figure out what classes you enjoy, and that will lead you to a major. I was flattered that he decided to reach out to me even after leaving for a school with more resources and options.

The second student left a note on my door yesterday morning, asking me to call him ASAP. I was concerned that it might have something to do with his grade in my class last spring–he was a smart student, but absences affected his grade. I called, prepared to look through old files and discuss the ins and outs of my policy with the student. As soon as the conversation started, though, I felt bad about my cynicism. The student reached out to me because he is enrolled in a discipline-specific writing course–History Writing–and he was overwhelmed by the thought of writing a 15-page paper in a style he’d never heard of before (Turabian, which is not the style I, nor my colleagues, teach in comp classes here). We talked about his options, and I found some websites to send him that described the new citation style he needed to learn; we strategized his next move, and he seemed to calm down a bit.  He ended the conversation by telling me, “I knew I could trust you to help me. That’s why I came to you.”

Of course, cynical me wants to point out that I should be making my students independent writers capable of figuring things out on their own after taking my classes. But that’s not realistic. What is realistic is helping students recognize where they can find useful sources to help guide their way. And for two of my former students, at least, I seem to be that resource. I’m not saying I want to be inundated with editing requests from former students; I do want them to remember me and my class(es) as being useful and helpful, though, and I think that’s what these two incidents illustrate. Even when I have down teaching days, I have to remember the bigger picture.

Is it cheesy? Maybe. But it’s how I feel right now.

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I am an associate professor of English and writing center coordinator at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. I teach courses in composition, creative nonfiction, fundamentals of English, and peer tutoring.

Posted in Comp/Rhet, How it’s going, Inspiration, Me, Students, teaching
2 comments on “So that’s why I do it. . .
  1. a.m.d. says:

    This is fabulous, Denise.
    Just what I needed to read before going to teach comp…which lately has seemed to me a sluggish and confused/bored group of students. What you’re writing here reminds me of how I need to be more patient with myself and my students…they are on a journey of learning, as am I. I need to slow down, examine my goals, and think about pacing and sustainability. Your students trust you and value your insight–and that’s so valuable.

    • denise says:

      Thanks, Ab. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day details, and these two moments happening so close together gave me some positive energy and perspective.

      I can’t wait to catch up at femrhet!

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