Teaching, and why it’s good for you

I have a lot of respect for good teachers. For one thing, I come from a family of them. A good teacher can change a student’s life – give them that little push they need to really grow into their potential. Mind you, a bad teacher can destroy potential just as easily. I had both types at high school. My English teacher – Grant Andrews – was brilliant. Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society brilliant. He used to use me to teach the other students – make some comment about a poem or play or character that he knew I’d disagree with, and sit back grinning while I  launched into a passionate argument. I think we all learned without realising it, most of the time.

I’ve never wanted to be a teacher. Not a school teacher – I didn’t like kids even when I was one. (Especially when I was one.) But I do love running poetry workshops. I really get a kick out of seeing someone finally getting something – understanding why images are important, why you show rather than tell, what’s going on with the play between line endings and punctuation. All of which sounds boring, but isn’t. It’s the difference between reading a nutritional analysis and eating a meal. (Which isn’t a bad metaphor! Note to self: must use it again.)

So I’m now tutoring the poetry component of a Creative Writing course at CPIT. So far it’s been a lot of fun, if a little disorganised. If nothing else, it’s teaching me how much knowledge of my own I take for granted. But it’s also making me really think about things. Line breaks are a good example: Why would you bother breaking a line against the phrase? What does enjambment actually do? Get in front of a group of people who have limited knowledge of poetic conventions and you suddenly find yourself questioning your own assumptions. Because it doesn’t feel right to just say “this is how it is”.

I now know, right in the bone, the truth of the saying if you really want to learn something, teach it.

2 Replies to “Teaching, and why it’s good for you”

  1. This is a bit different but I suspect the logic is similar. When I was an IT trainer a few years back my class was too large to manage alone – and all the students were at different levels – so I used to buddy them up. One fellow asked me about it: “Aren’t you the teacher?” Yes, of course I was but I told him: “Look, if you can’t explain what you know then you don’t understand it. Treat this as positive reinforcement.” It worked very well.

    That said, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I’m not sure after all these years of writing poetry that I’d care too much to have to try and teach a class face-to-face.

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