Archive for September, 2010

Teaching and Poetry

September 28, 2010

Today I told a friend of mine that I really think in order to write effectively, often, and well, I needed to do one of two things:

A: Get out of teaching

B: Stop giving a shit about teaching

He told me that’s not true; that I’m not drawing from the same battery, that I’m just fatigued at the end of the day. I don’t think I agree with that, honestly. To me, teaching English (or writing, comp, rhetoric, lit, whatever you feel like calling it) absolutely draws on the same energy as writing poetry if you’re doing it well. I suppose if you’re teaching in exactly the right situation, that energy becomes a feedback loop of a kind; the teaching actually helps feed the poetry. In my case, though, that clearly isn’t happening, as I’ve written very little of consequence in the past two years and four months, since finishing my MFA. Could it just be fatigue? I suppose it could; I definitely get more active in the summer.

But what I mean is I feel that my teaching, the only way I know how to do it, involves giving not only a great deal of time but a great deal of my creative energy. My teaching is very performative; I am in front of the class, on my feet any time that they aren’t directly working on a test, quiz, or prompt. I am clawing and scratching and tearing and pulling (figuratively speaking) to get them to think. I am talking and joking and projecting not only my voice, but a character that isn’t me so much as it is some guy who will say almost anything to provoke a thoughtful response. I sometimes deliberately make them angry; I say outrageous things to keep them paying attention (I think most of them realize that these are jokes but I am sometimes not sure). I rarely if ever use notes; I let the text we’re working with dictate the discussion we have and sometimes it goes places I am not prepared for, but I’ll go with it. I’ll have notes in the text, sure, but I don’t stand in front of the class and deliver a lecture more than a handful of times in a semester. I don’t think any of this is out of the ordinary for some English teachers, though I definitely had some in the past who just stood up there and spouted the things they wanted us to repeat later.

Hell, come to think of it, I even have props; a yardstick or stick I use to pound my podium or the odd empty desk if I need to grab attention. I throw things (mostly candy, but I always throw new books to the students – carefully. It helps them bond with the new text, I think, when they have to catch it). I even have a ‘costume,’ of a sort; I wear a sportcoat every day no matter how hot it gets in the building; it started as a way to help cover the fact that I was surely sweating through my shirt (my school has no AC and is a brick oven the first two weeks and the last two weeks of any year). Now I can’t teach without it; doing so is unthinkable, because it’s become a noted part of the ‘character’ I ‘play’, and there’s a certain intimidation factor in those first two weeks, as kids are complaining nonstop about the heat and a little awed at the one person in the building wearing a sport coat and a tie.

But the point of this is not to pat myself on the back or explain my teaching style (there are plenty of things I could do better, believe me). The point is, I’m not sure I can keep doing that and write anything worth reading. I get home and my brain is done, my creative centers are fried, my psychic energy is drained. I’ve got nothing left. I can work out; in fact, I crave doing that because I need a physical release. But I want to do anything except write, and of course, there are always papers to grade, as I’m teaching two lit courses and four comp courses at the high school, one college comp course, and I tutor on the weekends online for the same college. This could be part of the problem.

This isn’t just meant to be whiny; plenty of teachers come home and write. Plenty of people with other jobs come home and write good, readable books. I’m genuinely concerned that I can’t keep teaching this way, and hope to have enough of myself left at the end of a day¬† to write anything worthwhile.

What do you think? Same energy? Same battery? Am I just a whiny punk who needs to shut up and put up (or alternately, give up?) Some way to balance these two? Should I take up pig farming or get a job on a loading dock somewhere?

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