Be Yourself

In [fields other than writing]–sports, or music, or practical arts–learning through practice rules. Basketball players practice shooting baskets. Jazz musicians practice scales and intervals. Aspiring cooks apprentice themselves to masters to learn their skills. Even people learning a foreign language devote themselves to practice. This is a different way to learn from the one most of us are used to. Different, and–when it comes to learning how to write–much, much better.

-Barbara Baig, SPLENDID SENTENCES (14-15)

Because of the death of a  colleague at my old college, I find myself back, teaching full-time through the end of the quarter.

When a quarter begins, there’s a ramp-up (sometimes gentle, sometimes not so much) that gets everyone into the first assignment, and it’s only about week two or even three that serious grading begins. Imagine pushing your boat off the shore, edging it into the water, climbing in, picking up your oars….

Taking over three composition classes — 97, 98, and 101 — at week eight has been more like being thrown into a rushing river about a half mile up from a waterfall.

Add to that, shell-shocked colleagues and bewildered students. Add to that, grief.

Over the years, I had my differences with this colleague, but we also shared laughter and hallway banter, and I knew that many of his students were devoted to him. We read our poetry together on a couple of college programs. When I was first at Everett Community College, he stepped in several times to give me advice about handling the workload. (“Never apologize for not getting graded papers back to students quickly. It takes time to be thoughtful.”)

He always dressed as though after his day of teaching he was heading directly out to the barn to wrangle some ponies, and I sometimes ribbed him about it.

Sitting in my temporary office in the late afternoons, trying (vainly) to catch up, I keep thinking that I hear his voice in the hall.

I pause and look at the door, as though he’ll poke his head in and tell me to go home.

“Don’t worry so much about teaching,” he once told me. “Just go in there and be yourself. The students learn as they go, and so do you.”

R.I.P., David.


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