At a panel at this year’s AWP Conference in Atlanta, writers took spans that spread the spectrum of opinions on the link between writing and teaching, writing and working outside of my writing really.
Phillip Lopate said he loves teaching; he loves writing. They’re mutual friends who support one another. Although he encouraged his listeners to develop expertise in something else beyond words. I’m thinking I might try lawnmowing – it worked when I was 14.
Sven Birkerts said that teaching isn’t his “real work.” His real work is then, presumably, his writing. He said, “Either I am writing or I am not.”
Diana Wagman hates teaching, loathes it, wants only to be writing. She was very clear.
This panel really got me thinking. Actually, if I’m going to be honest, I have to say it tainted me. I had walked into that room thinking that I was going to be able to say that teaching and writing are as Lopate described them – vocations that influence one another positively. After all, I wrote an article for Poets and Writer’s Magazine about that very topic. Now I doubt my own optimism.
The reality is that teaching is something I both love and loath. I am all of the people on the panel, a woman of at least two minds.
Some days, like last Tuesday for example, I walk into my Freshmen Composition class, and I feel like I’m glittering from head to toe. The conversation weaves through semiotics to cursing to Gloria Naylor. I walk out tired, a little less glittery, but satisfied – I’ve accomplished something meaningful.
Other days, like yesterday, I can’t even manage to speak with any energy. I sound like the science teacher – who I believe was Ben Stein – on The Wonder Years, a droning idiot with nothing valuable to say. When I walk out of the room, I want to cry for the waste of time, mine and the students, and the waste of my energy.
Sometimes I’m happy to prep my classes, grade my papers, chat about a student’s terrible tooth infection that made her look like she was packing up nuts for the winter. Sometimes, and I know my students hear the sigh in my voice on these days, I want to hide away, stay home, write my own stuff, and not see another comma splice as long as I live.
I wish that I could either decide that teaching is a burdensome necessity that I need in order to keep myself supplied with cream of wheat, pizza, and other necessary groceries or that I could determine that I love teaching, that it’s my life’s work, that I need it to keep me alive.
But unfortunately, I think both are true. Some days I love it; some days I hate it. Why would this thing be any different than the rest of life?