Advice from Space: Clanks in Captivity
How do I teach a student whose poems are basically “[Frak] you, teach!” Often I feel the sentiment “[Frak] you, teach” but, also…
Your student sounds like a clank.
This is definitely a Physician, heal thyself topic for me, but why should I let my personal failures prevent me from helping you? You should ignore that clank.
I have learned little from my time in Space, but I like to think I know a thing or two about captivity and, by extension, the captive audience. My spacecraft, though small and recently exhibiting a number of electrical flukes, is endlessly entertaining to me. It’s full of bolts and screws and glue-gunned equipment. And it’s so inventive, making new and disturbing noises during my sleep hours. Practically every night as I’m falling asleep, it lets out a strange new clank or hiss, and I always have to get up to investigate because, you know, if there’s something wrong, I could be in real trouble. (To be honest, I sort of appreciate the diversion.)
From a technological standpoint, these new noises have thus far been totally fine. My spacecraft manual assures me that these noises are perfectly normal and I’m perfectly safe, for one more night, at least. Then, like a lemur on caffeine, I return to my sleeping quarters, where I face my real problem: I can’t stop hearing the new clank. Over and over, over and over. Over and over. I am lying in darkest dark at the edge of infinity while the noise exhausts my increasingly-finite patience.
L.P., without a doubt, you have a classroom full of students who want to learn. They are all so, so on board with what you’re teaching them. They’re in a freaking creative writing class! Your class is the best, most exciting class of the semester! Maybe the most exciting class of their lives! But, like you, they are a captive audience to this student, this persistent, irritating clank.
Naturally at the sign of any potential problem, you need to do some investigation. Consult your manual—is this a real and dangerous problem? If so, bring in the proper mechanics and get that problem fixed. But if it’s just a minor annoyance, focusing on the noise is going to make it worse.
Some people take creative writing classes, or art or music classes, to confirm their creative genius. Heck, maybe that’s why most people initially sign up. Fairly quickly, most students start to realize that creating interesting, quality work takes more than just a few whiffs of breezy genius. But some students really struggle when faced with the thought that they might have room to grow.
Instead of embracing their own challenge, your personal clank is challenging you. Yes, it’s good for the creative process to test limits. A creative writer who doesn’t question anything is probably pretty bored, and boring. But. There is a time and place for creative purity, and a creative writing class is not that time. This is a creative writing class. There are assignments and class discussions. There are students. There is an instructor. It’s an artificial creative forum designed to move your students forward, but if they don’t want to participate, they’re better off spending that time staring down their creative challenges on their own.
Your students—all your students—signed up to be taught by you. As best you can, put your focus on the students who are excited to learn and develop new skills and participate in class. In the classroom, discuss their work first. At home, read and comment on their pieces first. That is not to say you should ignore the clank, but prioritize the students who want to be in your class and be taught by you.
Learning takes time, and sometimes it takes a long time. A semester is rarely enough. In a year, or five years, your student might think of your instruction and realize some of it made sense. They might be driving one day, and have an idea about writing, and not realize it was your idea. They might think it came from their own creative genius mind, and their writing will improve because of it, and maybe their life will improve because of it.
In the meantime, think of the 15 or 20 people whose creative brains are developing and evolving right now, because of you. As best you can, focus on them, not the clank.
Advice from Space
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