Why Teach?

I am a writer. That is my primary identity when it comes to my job and my purpose. So why do I teach?

At first, I taught because I didn’t know what the hell to do with a B.A. in English. Of course, the college counselor told me I could go into ANY field- everyone was looking for someone who could communicate well, especially in writing. Yeah… not so much. Besides, I was NOT cut out for corporate America: sit-down-shut-up and follow someone else’s rules all the time and meet the goals set by management. Industrial-age thinking was over for me a LOOOONG time ago. So, what to do? Teach! As long as my students’ test scores improved with my methods, I got to make up my own rules and curriculum and teach my way. It was a beautiful thing. For a while.

But somewhere along the way, the industrialists got ahold of the educational system (again!) Innovation, critical thinking, cooperative learning, striving for more and better results all flew out the proverbial window. Students had to pass tests. Test scores were the only recognized measure of a teacher’s effectiveness and a student’s capacity to learn. I became so disillusioned that I left teaching. For good! At least that’s what I told myself.

But guess what? I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t abandon students to believe the crap the industrialist educators were telling them about their writing and themselves. Any student can be a proficient writer, regardless of what their writing placement test says. And they don’t have to know the difference between a past participle and a dangling modifier to write well. Granted, they may not ever be a Hemingway or Stephen King; but they can certainly communicate effectively and become a leader in their chosen industry. And isn’t that what good writing SHOULD be about?

So, back to my original question: why teach? I’m a professional writer, true. But I’m good at teaching; and I feel a responsibility to undo the damage to students’ confidence and motivation done by stupid, ineffective placement tests. It just makes good sense. Besides, every now and then I get a semester like the current one, full of students who inspire ME to write my best too!