Sunday, January 31, 2016

Leveling Up, Again

67º ~ Gray-clouded skies, a wind that gusts and cuts, a yard full of sweet gum balls knocked loose & waiting for the rake

Last August, I posted about my transition into a tenure-track teaching gig at a 4-year university after teaching at the community college-level for a decade. I made analogies to being called up to the Bigs (the Major League of baseball) and to leveling up in video games. Now, a few weeks into my second semester at the University of Central Arkansas and now teaching for its Arkansas Writer's MFA Program for the first time, I'm experiencing another moment of transition.

This leap is all about poetry, almost all the time. For the first time in my teaching career, all of my classes are in creative writing, which means for the first time in my teaching career, I am not teaching composition. I do miss the first-year students and working with them to find their voices, but I confess, my heart is definitely most invested in & most nourished by teaching creative writing.

Synapses are firing at all hours and my brain is about to leap out of my skull with energy for words, poetry, and engaging my students. Most startling, I'm reading poetry with a new sense of urgency, a renewed pleasure and delight. This is a direct result of having a community of people at my disposal (luckiest person on earth!), a community that shares my interests and concerns. This is not to dismiss my community of poetry on the internet, but there is something more concentrated about a group of people coming together face-to-face at scheduled intervals, having read the same material, to muck about with words in an attempt to create art. Along the way, we get to read fabulous poets and writers who engage us, enlighten us, frustrate us, delight us, and toss us into a state of questioning. We learn! We grow! We fill ourselves up to overflowing!

*I do mean "we," as I mentioned earlier that the classes are much more interesting when I get to pose my questions alongside my students' questions, and we all set about figuring things out together.

The downside, if there is one, is that I have two courses that are nearly "new preps" for me. While I have bits and pieces of useful teaching materials for both classes, they tend to be scattered, and I have to sit down prior to each class and spend hours getting organized. While it might not look like it to my students, I do try to think about the overall semester goals and how each class day might get us closer to those goals. I try to be as organized as possible about it; however, teaching is organic not programatic. As each class period unfolds, there must be room for the previously unknown question, the unanticipated tangent, the unplanned spontaneity of a discussion spinning off into new territory, and the first semester of teaching a class means there's going to be a bit more chaos than in a class I've taught time and time again (i.e. Intro to Creative Writing, where the issue can be re-invigorating a syllabus perhaps grown too stiff over the semesters).

All of this is to say that I am basking in the sun of the next level and hoping that I'm doing my students and my colleagues justice. I have dropped the ball a bit on writing, revising, and submitting, so that is going into my calendar for next week at a higher priority, and I'm hopeful that we've now established a bit of rhythm in the semester that will allow for a new "to-do" item.

Until then, "I have promises to keep" and poems to read before I sleep and poems to read before I sleep.


Kathleen said...

This is a thrill! Keep basking!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kathleen!