Sunday, June 25, 2006

Teacher, Teacher

I'm trying to figure out the difference between leading a workshop in an independent setting and leading a class under auspices of a traditional education institution. This is as close as I've come: In a workshop setting, I, the teacher, have vertical and horizontal control over everything; in the traditional institutional setting, I'm a plug-in, part of a greater whole. I'm prejudiced against neither. I'm just trying to figure out which path to follow, or if I should follow both.
Last week I wrapped up a five-week course sponsored by the Stowe Free Library. The course was called The Art of the Short Story, and for a short story writer like me, it was like giving a kid the keys to the candy story, the kid being me, and the candy store being the opportunity to share my knowledge with hungry students. The class went well, the students were great, enthusiastic, and that brings me to the first important difference between workshops and classrooms: people who sign up for a workshop do so because they want to be there; the same can't always be said for students being herded through the maze behind ivy covered walls. But there's more than that.
To offer a workshop is to engage the community at the grass roots level, the broadest, most accessible place. The workshop casts a local net over a diverse section of your friends and neighbors. Essentially it's initiated by you, the teacher. The class at the college level is initiated far and away, by unseen administrators and department heads. While they certainly have the needs of the community in mind to some extent, they're casting a net over a broader area, in search of a more specific fish. Workshop leaders cast smaller nets, for varied fish.
Why all the thought about this? I should be overwhelmed with my upcoming graduation from Goddard College (Sunday, July 2, 2006), as well as busy summer ahead of me at the Auberge de Stowe B&B. It's because I love both formats. There's something alluring about stepping into a classroom of young faces and feeling their needs grab you by the ankles and shake you out of your game plan. And there's something terrifying about stepping into a workshop full of savvy adults who don't need to be there, but are giving up their American Idol night, or their bridge night, to see how you can enrich them. As a teacher, you need to be prepared for both.
One of the great discoveries for me in the MFA program I've just completed is an interest--no, a love--for teaching. Coming into the program, the teaching practicum was the thing that scared me the most. But it turns out to be the thing I've had the most fun with, the most enjoyment with. Don't misunderstand me, the writer still rules my heart. But the teaching seems such a natural expression of what I seek as an artist that I'm compelled to it, a lover racing through the night to his beloved.
I hope the future offers me lots of choices, and I hope I can satisfy them all, because I'd hate to give up one of the other. If I do land in a university setting, I'll make it my business to offer workshops to the community. And if I don't, I'll find a way to infect the higher education system with my particular brand of teaching.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

So much for free time on my hands.
For a long time I'd looked forward to this spring with luscious anticipation. Finally I'd be able to tear my head away from my studies and reacquaint myself with my surroundings. I'd go fishing with my sons, ride the lawn mower in the sun, drink a beer in the hammock. Be an innkeeper.
That didn't happen--at least not yet. What did happen was a scheduling explosion. When May rolled around, I suddenly realized that I was going to be as busy as I'd been the previous two years. It was that damn second law of thermodynamics again: systems becoming more complicated. The first thing that overtook me was the work remaining to wrap up my graduate degree. At Goddard, unlike other schools, you're responsible for managing your own paper work. That means instead of a small slip of paper with a bunch of letter grades, we get a full narrative transcript, describing in detail the work of the past two years. It also meant I had to deal with drafts and revisions. Then I had to create my Final Product Binder, the tome which housed all this spit and polish writing. The work piled up on the edge of my desk like grains of salt filling the bottom of an hourglass.
And then there was my short story writing workshop at the Stowe Free Library. I'd conveniently ignored it, and with only a few weeks till its scheduled start, I needed to dive into detailed preparations. I'd prepared a detailed outline of the course when I made the proposal, now I had to fill in all the theoretical blanks with bricks and mortar. Leading a workshop may only occupy two hours a night on Thursdays, but the preparation goes on throughout the week.
Oh, I almost forgot. Baseball. I'm involved in baseball at all levels the way plumbers are involved with water flow. Besides being a fan and dedicating myself to watching as much on television as I can, I'm on the board of Stowe Youth Baseball, and I'm in charge of coordinating the Rookie Ball and T-Ball programs. While this mostly means organizing the parents who actually coach the kids, it's still a lot of running around, answering phone calls and emails. And then there are my sons. Both boys are in Little League, but on different teams. That means a different game every night of the week. Since the beginning of May I've stood on every Little League field in Lamoille County, in driving rain laced with snowflakes, smothering humidity saturated with the smell of manure, and twilight pregnant with clouds of black flies from Hell.
Did I mention the inn? Air conditioners need to be installed, paint needs to be scraped, pools need to be opened, reservations need to be taken, woodchucks need to be banished, lawns need to be mowed, guests need to be entertained, and, at some point, it needs to stop raining around here. Twice the river in the back has been up to its banks, something unheard of at this time of year. I even found a couple of trout up on my lawn who told me they got out of the river because they were just plain exhausted from swimming against the raging current. I didn't have the heart to encrust them in almonds and fry them up.
But there's hope. On July 2nd I officially graduate from Goddard College with and MFA in Writing. Baseball season wraps up this week. There's sunshine in the forecast. My schedule's certainly going to open up after that, right?
Right?