Posted on September 3, 2012
To those of you who wrote to congratulate me on my daughter’s wedding: thank you for your good wishes and prayers for a happy marriage. I was very touched to read what you said, and for your loving comments. And to those who wanted to see a picture of the bride—-we don’t have the wedding pictures yet, but when we get them, I’ll try to find a nice one and post it later. She was a beautiful bride!!!
One of you asked if I ever teach classes. And I actually used to be a teacher. My first job ever was as a translator, in French and English. My second was in advertising, as a copywriter. And my third was as a teacher. I taught English and Creative Writing to High School juniors and seniors, mostly seniors. It was a major learning experience for me, and what I discovered is that it is not enough to have a skill, that doesn’t mean you can teach it. Teaching is a whole other talent, and I have enormous respect and admiration for teachers. And to be honest, at the time, I was a lousy teacher!! I taught in two private high schools in San Francisco, for three years. And I was actually too young to do it. I was about 23 years old then, and my students were only five years younger than I was. Do you remember how there is always some poor teacher who is being badgered by her students and unable to control them? That was me. I started dreading going to my classes. They teased me, they talked throughout the class, they didn’t do their homework, they flirted with me. And more than once, a kind and very experienced teacher who had the classroom next door came in to rescue me from my students, scold them into behaving, and then of course, all hell would break loose again the moment she walked out the door. She had an amazing talent for teaching, and I didn’t. And I had absolutely no idea how to control my students, and they knew it.
There were times when I enjoyed it, but not often. Most of the time, I just tried to survive it and prayed they wouldn’t humiliate me. I enjoyed the writing assignments and some of what they wrote. And a few of my students had real talent. And I hope that I taught them something useful. One of my students actually went on to become a writer, and has very kindly attributed his early interest in writing to me. (Ethan Canin). But I think very few of them would have said I was a good teacher.
I used one interesting tool to try to illustrate to them what writing is about: a trust walk. I divided my class into pairs, blindfolded one person in each pair, and told them to walk around the school with their partners. It was the job of the un-blindfolded one to explain to the blindfolded one what was happening around them, who was there, who was talking, what they were doing, what the room or hallway looked like, who was in it, where they were going. The un-blindfolded guide would forget to tell them major details, to watch a step, or a staircase, to watch out for a sharp corner or a wall. Within minutes the student with the blindfold would be frustrated beyond belief, confused about who was around them, what they were doing, and who was talking, and sometimes the one wearing the blindfold would get angry at their guide, over the lack of information. A few even stumbled and fell, for lack of better information and guidance. And when they all got back to the classroom, I explained that the guide is like a writer. If a writer doesn’t give you clear information and good descriptions, the reader has no idea what’s going on, gets confused, loses the thread of the story, and gets frustrated as they “fall down stairs and walk into walls”. The reader is like the blindfolded person, and if you don’t tell them what’s going on, it’s no fun at all. Their writing actually improved after that, and it brought the point home to them better than anything I could have said. That was probably the only clever tool I used in my teaching. Beyond that, I was a pretty unexciting teacher. I just didn’t have the experience or the skill to do it well. I’ve often thought that I’d like to try again, now that I’m all grown up and the students wouldn’t scare me. But my talent still doesn’t lie in teaching. I’m a writer not a teacher, and I think I’ll stick to what I know best, and leave teaching to the people who really have the skill and talent to do it, far better than I could. And I’ve never taught a class since then. After my teaching experience, I decided to go into full time writing. But now and then I run into someone who was one of my students. And seriously, hats off to all of you out there who are teachers!!! That’s a tough job, and hard to make it exciting, and make a subject come alive to the students. I had some great teachers when I was in school, and I still remember fondly the subjects they taught me. In my French school, two years of Latin was required, and I hated the first year, but the second year I had a fabulous Latin teacher, and as a result, I took 7 years of Latin. Now THAT’s a teacher!!!!!