Why teach? (Encore)

There are a great many reasons why I teach, but I suspect the most important one is that it makes me feel good. I don’t know if that qualifies as weird or not, and frankly, I don’t care.

I don’t teach in the inner city; I’m not some middle-class, suburban saint with a penchant for helping the underprivileged or the disadvantaged. I teach grown-ups. Seniors, mostly, folks who’ve lived a lot, who’ve seen a lot, and who have an abundance of stories to share. Most of them, however, need some help to get those stories told–and told right. The amount of help they need varies a great deal. Some are on the verge of doing primo work. Others need more, and I expect those with whom I work to pitch in and help, too.

Unlike those instructors who labor in the traditional fields of public and private education, my students have chosen to spend their time in my classes. They’re there because they want to be there. That makes all the difference in the world. They show up because they want to improve their skills. There aren’t any grades. No gold stars. No report cards. Instead, there is camaraderie, and that’s an astonishingly powerful potion.

Imagine telling your story, or parts of it, while a cadre of interested listeners tune in closely to what you have to say. Their responses, typically positive and affirmative, have an almost narcotic effect. My role, pointing out areas needing a tweak or a pruning, doesn’t diminish the goodwill engendered by the class. If anything, it leads to questions and dialog–all of which add to the value of the experience for everyone. Me, included!

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t know anyone who does. But I’ve been fortunate to learn from a fair number of truly gifted wordsmiths, some famous, some still waiting to be discovered. And I’m pleased to pass along what they’ve shared. Best of all, the lessons come not from theory and certainly not from the supposed wisdom of some greybeard in academia. God spare us more of that! The lessons are based on real-world trial and error–what works, what sells.

We don’t diagram sentences or pretend to know what went on in the heads of the “literary greats.” I couldn’t care less what Proust or Faulkner or Steinbeck were thinking when they drafted their work. What matters, to me, is whether or not they told compelling tales. That’s it. And those are the kinds of stories I want my students to write.

So, the answer to the initial question is pretty simple, really. I teach because I can make a difference, and that’s a reward in and of itself.


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Historical writing, Memoir, novel writing, short fiction, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Why teach? (Encore)

  1. Dixie says:

    Josh, Your teaching has made a huge impact in my life. Thank you. David L. and I are still working together on our museum newsletter.

  2. Gerald W. Flinchum says:

    AMEN!!!!! WELL SAID.

  3. Barry Pencek says:

    Well said Josh.

  4. Betty Smith says:

    Well said my friend. Some, like you and I, have the gift of love of teaching, and we do make a difference even though we may never know how or to whom. Know now that you have made a difference in my life; you are a blessing for which I thank my Lord.

  5. An-l says:

    Not just you as a teacher, but knowing you personally has brought many days of sunshine into my life. I’m grateful for time spent in your classroom and will forever cherish your continued friendship. You do make a difference so keep on teaching!

  6. Without your (and Jessie’s) help, “Be Still” would never made it across the finish line! Thank you for helping amateur writers like me realize our dreams. 🙂

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