In my livejournal…

In my livejournal ego-googling last night, I did run across one critical comment, from one of my students at Vermont College who said that she'd had a bad experience with me as her advisor, and that clearly, "my heart wasn't in it."

Now, my impulse is to get defensive. Because I did care very much about all my students at Vermont and their work -- I only had ten of them, five each semester, and I was pretty invested in their writing.

But then I think about what that year was actually like. I started teaching in December of 2004, coming right off almost twenty exhausting and nerve-wracking job interviews at MLA, and with one of the worst flu bouts of my life. So instead of being really engaged with the at-Vermont session, I dragged myself to the things I absolutely had to go to, and spent the rest of the time huddled in bed, watching endless episodes of Alias and wishing I were dead. I did not meet my normal standards for that winter intensive.

I think I did pretty decently with my five students in the semester that followed, though, sending back their critiques monthly by e-mail -- I'd be surprised if any of them were really unhappy with my critiquing. But it's certainly possible, especially since I'm more of a structural / character critiquer, and not a line editor, and some students can feel cheated if they don't get back stories that are extensively marked up. I try to explain my philosophy to my students now, but I'm not sure I was doing a good job of that back then. And even if they understand what I'm trying to do, that doesn't mean they aren't looking for something else.

And then the next semester was worse. Bodies in Motion came out that May of 2005, and I was in pretty good shape for the summer intensive week. But then I came home, and got slammed with starting my first real full-time job at Roosevelt, plus being on crazy deadline to write my novel for HarperCollins. I was utterly swamped and completely freaked out, especially when I started getting back unhappy feedback from my editor, and in retrospect, I'm quite sure that I wasn't able to give those five students my best that semester. I think the student was right -- my heart wasn't in it.

I'm sorry for that now; I wish I could redo it. And yet at the same time -- I'm not perfect. Some semesters I'll teach better than others. Some semesters I'll be sick, or upset about family things, or having my own writing difficulties, etc. and so on, and it'll probably affect my teaching. I think that has to be okay, that I can't sit around flagellating myself for not being a perfect teacher all the time. My students get the best I can manage at the time. That has to be good enough.

That said, I'm sort of glad I'm not a doctor. :-) The responsibility would kill me.

Patrick, who co-owns Eastgate Cafe, has just said that he'd be happy to let me run some writing classes out of here this summer. I'd hesitated, in part because we don't have room in our house, but mostly because I felt that I didn't do a great job with the online writing classes I taught last summer. (I just wrote to my students, offering them one make-up crit, because I fell so behind last time.) But we could use the money from the classes (it'll pay for that extra babysitting if enough people sign up), and in-person classes are more fun than teaching online, frankly.

So Simone, you get your request. Tentatively, it'll be a beginner / intermediate class, with a three-week session in July that'll be mostly short craft exercises, building towards a story, and a follow-up three-week session in August that'll be mostly story critique. Monday nights, 7-9 p.m., limited to 10 students max, $75 / three-week session, $125 for the full six weeks. And it'll be awesome, because even when I'm not at the top of my game, I think I'm a pretty good writing teacher. So there. :-)

More details soon.

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