Teaching Creative Writing High School

Teaching Creative Writing High School-88
My predecessor in creative writing was happy to return to literature, grammar, spelling, vocabulary.

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In any case, ''creative writing'' was a misnomer for what was happening in those classes.

(I wanted to drop '' Creative'' from the course title but was told the one-word '' Writing'' simply wouldn't work.) There was writing, talking, scribbling, singing, oral readings, chanting, poetry, peer evaluations, silences, ring-a-ring o-roses a pocket full of posies around the room.

And they did: Kate Milford's essay on sexual harassment in the subways landed on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. Susan is still at it though Kate drifted away to become a photographer.

Singing led to poetry -- no, not the usual high school situation where the teacher leads the class in drilling for the ''deeper meaning.'' I had tried that and hit rocks.

'''' I ah, I ah.'''' Last night, Doug.

Less than 24 hours ago.'' It was chicken, always chicken.Creative writing was an elective course and, maybe, reputed to be easy.There were no huge textbooks, no intimidating tests, ''and this new teacher, you know, he has us singing every Thursday and reading every Friday.'' Students clamored to get into my overcrowded classes. If there was such a demand for my classes it meant I gave out too many high grades.He said I should just go in there and do something about writing. I assured them that '' Once upon a time'' was good enough for the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault and even James Joyce. They were comfortable and middle class and everything was programmed and they were in this school because they were strong in science and mathematics.They would graduate from high school to the best universities and have no adventures because that's the way it was with their families.They had no stories to tell, and in their lives there was no once upon a time.They envied me my miserable Irish childhood and wished (almost) they could be poor so they'd have something to write about. We sang American and Irish folk songs and it didn't matter that my students were Chinese, Hispanic, African, Russian, Jewish, Korean -- the usual New York City agglomeration.We sang '' The Yellow Rose of Texas'' and '' The Rocky Road to Dublin.'' Not once in 15 years would they ask, '' Why are we singing all these songs in a writing class?You can teach biology and origami and how to skin a rabbit but I don't think you can teach creative writing. You can help aspiring writers in their search for their material, their style. We read Jane Austen and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hemingway and Faulkner, Chinua Achebe (a good man for once upon a time).My students thought they understood these writers, except for Faulkner.


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