Friday, October 11, 2013

Inspiring More Than Requiring

As an author, as well as a private writing teacher, my aim is to inspire awe for words and awesome writing, and to create meaningful connections between minds. Such connections enable us to see the commonalities more than the differences among us, in terms of perceptions, values, realizations, and passions. Such connections remind us that like-minded, potential friends are always within our reach, as represented by the authors (and characters) whose words resonate in our minds. Such connections help us to not take ourselves too seriously, as if we alone have our particular challenges to overcome and no one can possibly understand. Connections through words can establish fellowship among people, and mitigate loneliness and apathy. I view my lessons as my earnest attempts to teach students how to think and how to convey their thoughts clearly, instead of how to absorb others' facts and ideas without deeply pondering them, and then regurgitate those adopted ideas within predetermined formats.

To parents who mistakenly hire me to teach their kids how to write for better grades or test scores, I say that my mission is to enlighten students: to shed light on the power of words, and to lighten the load of stress that kids feel due to the quantifying of quality in language arts education. That means I nourish their minds with poetry. That means I help them grow through reading and writing fiction as well as nonfiction, essays and memoirs, speeches and private reflections. I don't care that much if my student receives a 5 or a 6 on his school's writing assessment. I care far more about whether that student knows how to assess his own personal Best in qualitative terms.

To kids who have shared with me a graded piece of writing from school, to ask if I concur with the grade, I respond directly to the matter on the page, not the letter scrawled in red ink across the top. If pressed by a student or parent for my opinion regarding a grade received, I often disagree with school teachers--and sometimes even surprise students with much lower assessments of their school work based on what I've seen from them in my classes. I once recall such a surprised student then surprising me by looking vindicated by my assessment of her teacher's far-too-generous grade. "I kind of thought the same thing," she explained, "because I saw a lot wrong with my essay, but I ran out of time and had to turn it in." That comment was my "mission accomplished" message for the day.