Dec 23rd, 2003 @ 8:29 am | Author:
Our final exam in my freshman composition class required students to present a major project. After the presentations, we had a group picture. I will treasure it, along with the memories. Teaching is a calling, and I am not called. I have a different set of skills, along with a tremendous respect for those who teach well. So it was a privilege to try to walk that path for a time. Why is teaching so great?

1. A classroom of students is like a basket of seashells. Each is different from the others; all are special. As time goes by and you have occasion to spend a little extra time with each of them, you begin to notice subtle textures and colors. The nuances give them depth and interest beyond the surface. You begin to hold each one in your heart.

2. Unlike seashells, class members grow and change by interacting with each other. We spent many class periods working on assignments in groups of four, shuffling the membership periodically. This approach helped many of them feel more comfortable " or, put another way, less scared. They had come from several states and towns as freshmen, not knowing what to expect. The groups gave them a chance to make new friends and to see first-hand that although some of their classmates wrote better, others did not. Then they could relax and get to work.

3. One day, we took a walk downtown. The weather was miserable that day. Their assignment involved stopping people to ask a few questions, and then we met for hot chocolate and discussion of what they had learned. Some had to work up their courage to talk to strangers, but for others there is no such thing as "stranger." They learned from each other. Folks they talked with seemed to enjoy it, and their reflections afterward were insightful and good-natured. I felt like someone introducing two of my dear friends, class and community, who had never met before and finding that they liked each other as much as I liked each of them.

4. The students wrote many short papers that showed bits and pieces of their personal history and experiences. Many of them dealt with sports, often revealing the values or lessons in those stories. Others dealt with personal or family tragedy, scary situations, and what they are learning about life. They were learning not only how to write better but also how to communicate effectively. Writing is not just a technical skill, but also a way of sharing important ideas. It is a privilege to be on the receiving end of that kind of sharing. It is also sobering to know that many of them have had profound experiences, sometimes for better but often for worse, at their young age.

Teaching is connecting, joining together to row the boat just a little farther down stream. I watched my class members grow as individuals and as writers. Each took about four courses this semester, with corresponding growth. It is hard work for all, but the results are magical.