Those Who Write, Teach

My provost sent this link to the English faculty, inviting us to share our responses.

My father succinctly summarized his feelings about my choice to
dedicate my 20s to writing fiction. “You’re not living in the real
world,” he said. I reacted with a young man’s defensiveness, but in
retrospect his assessment seems less critical than a matter of fact.

is where teaching comes in. It provides all the practical things that
can help prop us up above the morass of our insane callings, not to
mention something we can wave at the world like a badge. And don’t
forget this bonus: other people. How delightful to work on this thing
called a hallway, populated not just by colleagues but by students, all
committed to, or at the very least interested in, writing. And this is
all without even mentioning the teaching itself. I love teaching. There
is a deep pleasure in sharing the things that you have labored to learn
in solitude. It’s inspiring work — rewarding, interactive, human work
so different from what we do at our desks — and it turns out that
writers, many of us natural entertainers, often do it quite well. (David Gessner, New York Times)

Coming from a school where the teaching load is 4/4, his 2/2 load seems like luxury, though of course I’m aware that the reduced teaching load carries with it an increased expectation of publication.  After almost 10 years as a full-time faculty member, I’m still adjusting to the feeling of watching conference deadlines, opportunities to contribute to anthologies, and the ghosts of book proposals go whizzing past me as I patiently explain to yet another class of freshmen how to download an e-mail attachment or how to do the pagination in an MLA style paper. As a grad student, I feared that I wouldn’t have enough to say; my reality is that I have plenty to say — both to my students and my colleagues, but never enough time.

Or, to be more precise, the conventions of the student-centered classroom mean I have to make my points in parallel to or as part of the substructure for the student conversation. I don’t have 45 unbroken minutes to speak (saving 5 minutes at the end for questions), so I never quite get to drop the kinds of pearls of wisdom that I recall and treasure from my own undergraduate experience.  And at this phase in my life, I never have the 8 or 12 hours of uninterrupted time that I found were necessary to churn out the chapters of my dissertation — and even the once or twice a week that I can get to the office during the summer are often only useful to dig myself out from under the backlog.

Nevertheless, I will never find myself in the soul-sucking position of working on  writing project because I *have to* — everything I’ve written, I wrote because I wanted to, and it just happens to be a benefit that I get to list it as an accomplishment on an annual report.