One of the aspects that drew me to Columbia’s Creative Writing master’s program was the opportunity to teach a composition class. A big part of attaining my MFA is to one day teach young adults about writing and the wonders it can do as a creative outlet. The push toward academia was inspired by a 4-hour drive back to WIU (my undergraduate institution) for a conference called “Dealing with Difference.” Dr. Wilson-Jordan had invited me to read my nonfiction piece about coming out called “Am I All Right, or Am I All Wrong.”
Besides getting paid, I saw it as an opportunity to spread some queer art and speak on work I was very proud of. It was an amazing experience. I was asked a lot of thought provoking questions, which I attempted to answer with as much honesty and understanding as I could. Needless to say I was glowing from the event and the free food. While sitting with Dr. Wilson-Jordan and Barbara Harroun we talked about what I was doing currently and what I may want to do next.
“Have you thought about teaching?”
In fact, I had. My joke since middle school was if I didn’t make it as an actor, director, firewoman, or trapeze artist, I’d go back to school to be a history teacher, because I love stories. I said as much to my two beloved English professors. I drove those 4 hours back to the city romanticizing, as we writers do, what it would be like to pursue writing and really learn storytelling from it’s foundation. Six months later I was applying to Columbia.
When reading up on a few institutions (a tedious process) I made sure to research if I would be able to teach as a graduate student. Columbia not only was my first choice, but also offered this, so I was pretty much sold on the program. It was still a gamble, because not everyone is offered the chance, and you still have to pass the Composition Theory and Praxis class. I had confidence that I was a strong candidate and went ahead and applied.
Now here I am teaching my second semester at Columbia, and what a journey it has been! My first semester I remember feeling as though I was not myself, as if I were watching this body snatcher lead discussions and grade 18 papers. It was an adjustment. I thought that I would be connected to my students immediately as I had felt about my professors in the past. I felt…well not that. I warmed up towards the end, finding out that you can learn to acquire sea legs; you didn’t have to be born with them (below are student projects from this year).
This semester has been completely different. I express myself more openly. My class is very reactive to almost all the material I give them. My advice for days when it doesn’t is to stare back at those blank faces, everyone is just trying to thinking of an answer. My students most often offer bright and intelligent comments, and funny anecdotes when we digress off topic. Featured in this blog are some examples from a project I assigned. (web address to the site below https://transrights4all.wixsite.com/transrights)
They had to create a protest piece utilizing a mode and examining the affordances. They had to think about circulation. How will people see this and how will people access it. This year has been full of great papers, free writes, and deep analysis. I feel as though I got the golden ticket with this group. There are challenges, of course. Trying to be clear with directions. Grading papers on top of class work (and two other jobs if you’re me). Getting students to turn in work on time and follow rubrics. The experience is nothing like I’ve ever had, and it’s been awesome. Being a graduate student instructor has given me a lot of hands-on skills and fond memories that will last well into my old age. Until then, I’ll keep trying to get my students to answer in the heavy silence because, “Guys, I really want to hear what you have to say!”