Students who teach, teachers who stude…

Wine Reflections

In a post called Shaping Dreams not long ago, I talked about pickiness, about trying to encourage new writers to write prose that isn’t merely good enough… about reaching, in other words, for excellence.

A thing about adult education (all education, really) is that it boils down to the old cliche about leading that horse to water. You can lay out ideas before a person–you can sparkle and cajole and really sell, but whether or not they pick ’em up is entirely out of your hands. There’s a bit of an emotional dance you have to do: you offer the knowledge up, and say “This is cool and really important and worthwhile,” but you can’t get in a big knot if a given group or individual kinda looks at it and replies with a shrug. You have to care–you shouldn’t teach if you don’t care–but it’s wrong to take it personally.

So one of the most interesting things that’s happened to me this year was seeing this shoe on the proverbial other foot as I Pac-Missed my way through Italian I again. (Tonight, I embark on a second round of Italian II.)

Adults take classes–writing classes, language classes, silversmithing classes, whatever–because they sincerely want to learn the subject material, but the degree of want can vary. And we all have so many commitments. Even as Teacher Me boggles at students who slide their assignments under my virtual door at literally the last permissible minute, Student Me has been known to finish up her assigned Italian exercises in the osteria half an hour before class begins. And even to think Who are you kidding? when this past term’s instructor snarked at us–we were a sad little trio of language students, who could not hide from her displeasure when we slacked–for neglecting to memorize pages and pages of vocabulary and grammar each and every week in our copious spare time.

The thing is: you’re taking the class for personal enrichment and fun. There’s often no grade, so there’s no fail. The instructor probably has limited options for forcing you to your homework, or making you learn, or–in the case of workshop classes, alas–even obliging you to give feedback as good as you’re getting. This is true whether the course is face to face or online.

Seeing my instructor take our moments of student laze personally was good for Student Me. Knowing how she felt underlined the whole concept of You don’t accomplish stuff unless you make an effort. This in turn has motivated me to actually do a little studying beyond the homework minimum. And I do mean a little. At the end of the day, I’m still more apt to watch an episode of Leverage on Netflix. Still–more than zero.

I also had a couple interesting conversations with my instructor, about these two perspectives, and I discovered she’s a student, too. She’s taking an ESL program, full-time. It has a direct effect on her well-being, as success will directly impact how employable she’ll be in the near future. She’s been working hard for six months and her English is astounding.

And even she has “Oh, I am such a bad student!” stories.

It makes me wonder what classes her English teacher might be taking on the side, and so on, and so on…

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About Alyx Dellamonica

After twenty-two years in Vancouver, B.C., I've recently moved to Toronto Ontario, where I make my living writing science fiction and fantasy; I also review books and teach writing online at UCLA. I'm a legally married lesbian, a coffee snob, and I wake up at an appallingly early hour.

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