On the eve of my first day as a substitute teacher for a local private high school, I read “Those Who Write, Teach.” The article is from this week’s New York Times magazine and it fed right into my (so-far unfounded) fears about teaching. The writer, who for the last five years has been teaching writing at a university, examines what teaching has done to the art of writing-his own and others.
As a curent MFA student who is unsure (fearful of?) the future and my post-graduation life- what will I do with it then, will I have to teach when all I want to do is sit at my computer and write, and can I even get a competitive creative writing teaching job?, I was fascinated by Gessner’s take on writers who teach. He talks about how much he loves teaching and why it’s a great job for many different reasons, but. But. But what is teaching doing to my writing, he asks. Reflecting on writers from the past like Melville and Thoreau, none of who were professors, he says, “Equally difficult is picturing Melville asking a group of undergrads, ‘What’s at stake in this story?'”
What a great image!
Gessner continues…”we must concede the possibility that something is lost by living a divided life. Intensity perhaps. The ability to focus hard and long on big, ambitious projects. A great writer, after all, must travel daily to a mental subcontinent, must rip into the work, experiencing the exertion of it, the anxiety of it, and once in a blue moon, the glory of it.”
Yes! Yes! I was cheering at this point, reading aloud but there was no one home except me. Gessner goes on to talk about how teaching also takes away from reading because of all the time spent reading student’s writings.
I suspect that this article will ruffle a lot of feathers, but it spoke to me on a deep level. I will go in and be a substitute teacher tomorrow, but I’ll look longingly at my computer before I leave, and I’ll think of the writing and reading I’m leaving behind for the sake of a few extra dollars.