Learning Before Teaching

December 20, 2017

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. To me, teachers were some of my favorite people growing up, both in real life and on TV. When I got confirmed during my freshman year, my seventh grade English teacher was my sponsor. When I think back to my childhood, Ms. Frizzle and Mr. Feeny are as much ingrained as my mother and father. When it comes to writing, I can’t imagine one day not teaching the next generation about the thing that I love so much, which is storytelling. 

If I were to be teaching a writing class right now, the most important thing that I would want my students to get out of my class would be to allow themselves freedom when it comes to the page. From middle school up until halfway through college, I never allowed myself to be true to who I am when it came to writing because I was afraid of embarrassment. Throughout that entire time, I wasn’t writing at all, save a few terrible poems I wrote for a boyfriend that I repressed the moment that I gave them to him. The idea of writing something bad that it felt like the whole world would read, terrified me. That fear kept me from pursuing something that I really enjoyed just because allowing anyone to see into my brain mortified me.

What I’ve come to find now is that revealing yourself in your writing is an amazing skill to have and it’s one that I believe everyone is capable of if, they truly let themselves. If I were a teacher, I would want that idea to always be in their minds once they left my class because without allowing yourself that freedom, you’re missing out on an entire part of the craft. I didn’t find this out until I got into college and I’ve been kicking myself for not doing it earlier.

I spent the first two years of college studying education and English. I was on track to become a middle school literature teacher, and I was excited about it except for the part where I didn’t feel prepared at all. I didn’t feel ready to go into a classroom, especially one that was filled with twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, and teach them about The Outsiders or Catcher in the Rye and what it means to write a thesis statement and write about books because there was so much more that I wanted to do with writing myself. What I had to realize was that Mr. Feeny and Ms. Frizzle didn’t become the iconic teachers that they were because they only studied to be a teacher; they both had to immerse themselves in their field, what they really cared about, before they could translate it to a group of students.

So that’s what I decided to do. I transferred to Columbia College Chicago with the intent to lose all my inhibitions when it came to being creative and find out who I was as an artist so that I could one day share that with someone else that was in the same position that I was in. My first semester I had classes with teachers who I’m going to remember for the rest of my life because they encouraged me in a way that I never felt comfortable enough to acknowledge before. Sure, I had had teachers before who were supportive but because I was holding myself back and censoring every word I put on the page, it never felt genuine to me. The difference with my experience at Columbia was that I was finally allowing myself to write whatever I wanted—whether that is a funny how-to piece about attending college parties or a short story about grief and mourning. Because I gave myself the creative license to be myself without the fear of embarrassment, some of my best work came to fruition right before my eyes.

Looking towards the future, I want to be the kind of teacher that I’ve encountered at Columbia whose main purpose is aiding students to get themselves fully on the page. A few teachers that I’ve had have really emphasized the necessity of writing something bad before writing something great, and writing just for yourself in order to become comfortable enough to write for an audience and accept criticism. I wish so much that I’d had that kind of opportunity before I was over halfway done with my college career as a writing student, so I can’t imagine not doing that for other people who need it.

Shannon Barry, Assitant Editor

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