Teacher to Teacher
About Talking with TeachersWhen I began volunteering at Young Chicago Authors this past winter and dreaming about starting a similar organization up north in rural Wisconsin where I'm from, my teacher Sandi Wisenberg suggested I read Bob Boone's book Inside Job. The book is a collection of teaching stories that trace the first thirty years of Bob's career leading up to the creation of YCA. I read Inside Job before I had ever even spoke to Bob and yet while I was reading it I felt like we were already friends. As I read his stories I felt a strong affinity to his teaching style of believing in the abilities of his students and being genuinely interested in their stories. It was helpful to read about the different challenges that arose throughout his career and I made mental notes of how he worked through these challenges with the idea that at some point in my own career I might need to borrow from his tool box.
My career path will not be exactly the same as Bob's, but I do believe that our paths will be similar in the way that they wind. The lifestyle of a creative writing teacher is attractive to me because it is so diverse. It seems most creative writing teachers (even those tenured with a University) are not just teachers, but writers and editors as well. They are jazz trombonists and yoga instructors and private tutors and program directors. Their career is not confined to a cubicle or an office. They are meeting students in diners and coffee shops, commuting to schools on opposite ends of the city or in other towns and cities, traveling to conferences in other states and other countries, and they are constantly networking -- reaching out to their fellow teachers to collaborate on projects, pass on job offers, edit each others writing, and share lesson plans.
It is this sort of networking that ultimately put me in touch with Bob. A few months ago he told Sandi that he was looking for someone to give him feedback on a new website that he had created as a resource space for creative writing teachers. Sandi knew that I had read Bob's book and connected to his work, so she asked me if I would be interested in working with him. Just like that I went from reading his book and dreaming about someday living a life like his to talking with him on the phone and being treated like a peer, like someone who also had something to offer.
He wanted me to check out his website and make suggestions for how he could improve and expand it. "How can this website help creative writing teachers? What sets my site apart from other sites like it?" he asked. After I got off the phone, I chewed on that question. I thought, well it's called "Bob Boone's Teacher Hangout." He's already told me he's got an email list of over a thousand creative writing teachers, and after forty-plus years of being involved with various teaching projects and organizations, it seems like an understatement to say he's "well-connected" (even if people haven't met him personally, I'm going to guess there is at most two degrees of separation between him and just about every other teacher of creative writing in the country). It seemed to me the strength of his website lay in these connections -- the connections that he had already established and the potential connections that his site could help to facilitate.
Then I jumped ahead (as I tend to do). "It could be like Myspace!" Teachers could sign up to have their own profile, one that they are able to update themselves. They could post current projects and links to relevant websites and examples of lesson plans. From one person's page you could link to the pages of all their colleagues and collaborators. People could search for profiles by name or location or writing genre. I sent an excited email off to Bob, of course concluding by letting him know, "As far as the technical aspect of how to actually create a website like this I'm pretty clueless."
A couple weeks later we met face to face and found some middle ground.
"What if you have a column?" He asked me. "You could get in touch with teachers and interview them and write up a little intro or something. We could call it ... "
"Talking with Teachers?"
"Talking with Teachers. Great. Do it."
* * *
So this is me doing it. I couldn't ask for a better assignment. Now that I have decided I want to make a career out of teaching creative writing and have spent countless hours dreaming about the classes I want to teach and the school even that I want to open, I can't think of a better way to move forward on these dreams than by calling out to the people ahead of me on this path.
My dad was never formally trained as a carpenter, but he has built a number of houses, including the house I was born in and grew up in and that my parent's still live in today. When he was exactly my age, living in the city and itching to build a cabin in Canada with his high school buddies, he would walk up to construction sites and watch the men work. He made mental notes of the materials they used, the tools he would need, the process he would have to follow, and when he had questions, he walked up to someone who looked like they might know the answer, and he asked them.
I am my father's daughter. I believe that the best way to learn how to do something is by talking with someone who is already doing it. The conversations between creative writing teachers -- whether they are face to face, written in a book, or posted as interviews on the internet -- are our most valuable resources. They are our tool boxes.
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