Writing – Teaching It Is An Art

Besides teaching part time at the International Secondary School, I’m also teaching freshman composition at Temple University’s Japan campus.  Today was my second class of the semester.  What a total blast!

First of all, I could go on and on about the elements of good writing forever.  But get me up in front of a class of students who HAVE to be there to get credit – and who have actually paid to be there, and I’m on fire.

In the first half of the class, we had fun discussing the two assigned essays they read.  And I do say “we” discussed them – it wasn’t just me in front lecturing.  In fact, we rearranged the tables in the room to make them discussion-friendly, as my dear mentor-professor, Dr. Dulce Gray, taught me to do.  The students participated beautifully and we had lively back-and-forth chats about the articles about which they will be writing.

Then, I gave a mini-lecture on the value and necessity of the thesis statement.  It was very brief – perhaps three minutes.

After that, the real fun began.  I broke the class into four groups of three and made them stand in the four corners of the room.  On a piece of paper  each group wrote a topic – it could be anything: beer, children, movies, libraries – anything.  They left the paper on the table and moved clockwise to the next group’s paper.  On the next group’s paper, they had to devise a thesis statement about that topic and write it.  Then I made them move clockwise around the room again, and repeat the exercise.  They did it one more time so they each looked at each topic.

More fun ensued.  I asked each group in turn to give me their favorite thesis statement written on the page.  I wrote it on the board, and devised a quick outline of a potential paper that could be written using that topic and that thesis.  It was off-the-cuff silliness: on the topic of schools, one group wrote that Japanese school-girls’ skirts should be longer so as to keep the sexual urges of men at bay.  On the topic of  food, we had a good time with a thesis about fast food and obesity rates.  I mentioned defining terms such as “fast food” and even “obesity” for their readers.  I did all of this while jumping around, talking, writing on the board, challenging the students to think harder, think deeper and have a general blast.  It was two of the fastest hours I have had in a while.

Call me a geek all you want, but I love this.  I love the challenge of shaping these first-year students into good writers.  I love the challenge of making them think. I love the way they grow in only 13 weeks.  And I love writing.  I love writing enough to be overjoyed to share it with others.

This is who I am.

Teaching As A Writer – A New Adventure

This week I have been doing a completely different type of writing than usual.  Usually my work involves stories and characters, plot and scenes.  This week, however, I have been working on curricula, goals, outcomes and syllabi.  Yep, it’s that time of year again: back to school.  Here at Chez Weinstein, it’s not just the kids going back, but also me; I am headed back into the classroom, somewhere I haven’t been in four years.  As I have been struggling through this week of preparations, I realized that some of the writing I am doing bears a startling resemblance to the writing I always do.

I will start every day at a small school called International Secondary School (ISS) teaching middle and high school English.  Two afternoons a week, I will teach at the Japan campus of Temple University.  I have taught at the university level many times – at George Mason University, George Washington University and Prince George’s Community College.  I have taught freshman composition, research writing, creative writing, upper level and lower level expository writing, and even basic writing. However, this is my first go at high school.

ISS is a private high school here in Japan, catering to English-speakers only.  There is ESL support, but in general, most of the kids should have native English skills.  Because it is a private school, it is not subject to state or federal oversight like any regular high school either in Japan or in the US.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have standards and best practices and all that; it just means that those standards, goals, outcomes and the like are not as set in stone and I am allowed much more creativity than I would be in a public high school.  For this I am grateful.  Under the tutelage of an excellent, young special education teacher who has been with the school for a few years, I have learned to adapt my skills and prepare/prepare for, my classroom.

I wrote the syllabi; I wrote the class descriptions; I wrote the learning-based outcomes I hoped to achieve with my students.  All of that took every ounce of creativity I had.  I realized that engaging these students will take my brain to a new level of thinking that my brain has heretofore not discovered.  I had to think about these abstract youngsters and how they are going to feel when they immerse themselves in my world of reading and writing.  I had to consider how I would make them into readers and writers – and to think of themselves as readers and writers.  These kids – they are going to become my characters.  I am going to write them into a story and move the narrative through the school year until they emerge from the high action of the text and through the denouement of the school year in June.

What an adventure.