One Native Life: Teaching
- Richard Wagamese | March 11, 2017
Now that I’ve been a professional writer for over thirty years, I’ve started to get more involved with teaching. I don’t have a Masters degree or any schooling beyond Grade Nine. I’ve never taken a writing course. But what I do have is working knowledge of how to be a writer. After a run of twelve books in eighteen years a guy should have picked up a few things to be able to share with others.
Through the years I’ve written virtually everything except maybe the label on a soup can. In that time I’ve written for radio, newspapers, television, public policy papers and of course, the stories. Still, I’ve flown largely by the seat of my pants and learned what I needed to learn as I needed it. It’s been a fruitful career though I wouldn’t encourage anyone to try it the way I did.
There’s something to be said for three decades as a writer. A guy has to have learned something to garner awards, an honorary doctorate and a host of ‘friends’ on Facebook. So I’ve been doing a lot more teaching in the last few years. It’s a real pleasure and an honor. This year alone I will have taught at three post-secondary institutions. I’ve actually been invited there. At one point in my life I was only ever kicked off a campus.
But life changes and people seem willing to bring me to their schools so that I can teach students. This always fascinates me. The students I teach have all got more education than I do. They have a lot more experience with academic process than I ever will. That can be a daunting thought. So standing in front of a classroom filled with such buoyant spirits and whip smart minds is a real honor for me.
But I always make sure to tell my students or workshop participants that I can only teach them what I know. I don’t have a background in theory. I don’t have an innate understanding of methodology, pedagogy or the other hundred pound words of academia. But I do know how to pound a sentence into submission and how to make one paragraph soar into the next. So I focus on teaching that.
I simply can’t teach them what I do not know. Take grammar for instance. I am terrible at grammar. I live and die by my computer software’s spelling and grammar checker. I can’t tell a modifier from a humidifier and as far as I know an adverb is an action word in a car commercial. Don’t even bother to ask me to define what a colon is. I only know it’s not something you write about in a family newspaper.
I can’t teach students any of that. But I can teach them the sheer love of language. That’s something I really know. I can teach them the joy that comes when one great word gallops after another into the corral of a wonderful sentence and you’re left with the dust of it on your hands. Then I can show them how to lasso them into a great paragraph. I can teach them how to work with emotion, spirit and joy.
I can teach them the wonder that falls over you when a story just kind of walks up and introduces itself to you. I can teach them how good it feels to sit down and put the first word of that story on paper. I can teach them how to do that every day. I can’t each them how to make writing a part of who you are and who you become.
Most of all I can teach them how to find the work you love and to bring the love to it each day of your life. I can show them how to be a creator, to bring things to life in words and image so that others can share your vision. I can teach them that Creator has placed us in a world of the possible not the impossible because my journey has been all about that.
After all this time I understand that I don’t know much. My scope of knowledge about teaching and academia and curriculum is very limited. I couldn’t teach anyone anything I haven’t a firm grasp on. The amount of things that I don’t know far outweighs what I do. What I do know however, I know with my heart and my mind always comes along for the ride.
But I do know something about joy, about satisfaction, about feeling fulfilled at what I do and about the wild, rollicking adventure life can be when you do what you love doing the most; paycheck or no paycheck. That’s life and teaching, I figure, is about sharing all of that.