Reading, “Those Who Write, Teach” by David Gessner

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.

2 thoughts on “Reading, “Those Who Write, Teach” by David Gessner

  1. I’m off to read the article now, but just wanted to share that I, in a perfect world, would NOT teach. Now, I do teach (4 classes just between Sept. 1st and Christmas) and I’m mostly happy to teach because of the occassional student I help reach a breakthrough, and certainly because it helps give my family more economic stability. BUT I can see so clearly what I lose as far as my writing: time, energy, passion. It is draining to say the same things over and over, to spend so much time reading work that isn’t yet polished enough to be heart-stirring or inspiring. My novel has completely stalled with my busier teaching schedule.
    Sorry for the long post; I don’t mean to be a downer. This spoke to me right now though. I’m hoping you and I both can soon find the perfect set up so that the central thing is the writing!

  2. Me too Violeta! Thanks for your thoughts, I’ll be curious to hear what you think after you read the article…I think your feelings will be confirmed!

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