Teaching

I’ve been lucky to teach writing in settings from elementary schools to young-parent programs to environmental education programs to undergraduate and graduate classrooms. As a teacher of poetry and nonfiction, I provide assignments and suggestions responding to the strengths and potential of each writer. I work to offer poets access to historic and emerging prosodic strategies, from metrical possibilities to the free verse line to procedural poetics. I encourage nonfiction writers to experiment with a range of approaches, including the lyric essay, personal narrative, and research informed by investigative reporting. Recognizing that it can be hard to separate the personal import of a piece of work from the craft of writing it, and that this skill is important for making good writing, I acknowledge the closeness of creative work to the self, and bring both empathy and precision to my critiques. For all genres, I emphasize the creative potential of research and the importance of fact checking, and offer students practice in each. In addition, we read a wide variety of poems and essays and spend time performing work. I feel it is important to devote time to the sometimes-neglected subjects of making a life in writing—creating effective writing routines and working toward publication. Constructivist teaching is especially apt for students of creative writing; not only does it offer opportunities for creating meaning, but that creation is essential to the success of students’ writing. Even the received elements of poetic craft can be taught in experiential ways that allow students to discover new potentials in traditional structures and to create novel forms and procedures.

In teaching editing, I offer students ample opportunity to practice and to analyze their efforts, beginning with marking copy on the page. Knowing those marks creates a foundation for learning to edit on screen, and it foregrounds a focus on word choice and the elements of style. Making changes on hard copy also drives home the extent of changes you’re suggesting; on screen it’s easier to make edits, and thus sometimes easier to miss the import or extent of them. In teaching developmental editing and copyediting, I provide students with tools to set up well for their work, discussing issues from the most basic considerations—the effect of different typefaces on the process of editing; choice of color for editors’ marks; options for marking changes on screen—to the art of effective querying, and the relationship between editor, author, and audience. Recognizing that editorial style is varied, I offer examples of work by other talented editors. The majority of class time is spent in experiential work in which students explore editing techniques. To enliven students’ understanding of the diverse choices and strategies available to editors, I ask both guest editors and students to articulate the reasoning behind changes they have suggested. I hope to cultivate an enjoyment of the smallest details of good writing as well as the more holistic questions that an editor encounters, thus providing students with a broad and deep understanding of the craft.

I approach each class or group with an awareness of my own subjectivity and of the diverse ideas and experiences my students bring with them. And I ground my practice in the psychology of learning. Carol S. Dweck’s work on how students conceptualize success is a particular influence on my teaching. Dweck has found that students who are encouraged to think that skills can be improved with work and practice do much better than students who are told implicitly that their good results are the product of innate talent. Messages about the origins of success persist throughout students’ education and affect their learning strategies and work habits as well as their grades. I strive to be aware of the messages I send students through word choice and tone as well as through course structures such as syllabi and assignments; to keep abreast of the literature; and to adapt my teaching strategies accordingly. Above all, I offer students examples of the pleasure the subject at hand can offer. Creating spaces in which students can safely enjoy their work, and safely fail and learn from failures, is my first aim.