I now have a Master of Arts in Writing from Northeastern University.
I spent three summers attending graduate seminars on writing and pedagogical theory on Martha's Vineyard with an extraordinary collection of professors from universities all over the country and other brilliant teacher-students who have become life-long friends (yeah, I'm talking to those of you guys who read this blog!). I spent many hours working on papers, reading and researching about writing and writing theory--especially that connected with teaching.
In my first three years of teaching at Roosevelt, I grew a lot as a person and a teacher. I've grown even more in Korea. But I know that I wouldn't have grown as much without the opportunity to engage in the reflection and writing that I did through this graduate program. It's been quite a trip, and even served as some of the initial inspiration for the starting of this blog.
From the first course I took with Professor Susan Wall where I discovered my "teaching self":
Writing is such a complex and often contradictory activity. There are rules, but most great writers break those rules; there are genres, but rarely does writing of genius confine itself to a prescribed form without ingenuity. I discovered I could teach conventions and forms, but as much as I encouraged students, they were often afraid to take the risks that they needed to take to become great writers. I realized that part of my task as a writing teacher would have to be to create an environment in which students were encouraged and rewarded for successful risks.
This was a terrifying discovery as a new teacher, because the natural extension was that I would have to start taking risks as a teacher.
--excerpt from "First Draft: A New(ish) Writing Teacher Examines Her Beliefs," final paper for Current Approaches to Teaching Writing
To my final research thesis (a teacher-research study about balancing the demands of a high-pressure test--the AP Language and Composition--with the goals of providing students with writing workshop style instruction), under the direction of Professor Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater, finished up here in South Korea this May:
As I said in the introduction of this paper, I have relocated to South Korea, where I continue to teach students in a test-based, highly competitive educational environment. However, I am fundamentally changed by my experiences as a teacher-researcher. I take risks in teaching more confidently than I did before beginning this project; even in a foreign land where I don’t always understand the language and the culture. I try to do what the best thing for my students is, rather than the best thing for the administrators, parents, political groups, or test-makers, but I also recognize a need for balance. I can’t be everything for these students, even for their writing and language development, or they will be too dependent on me, and I will make myself sick again.
What’s more, I see the need for cultural/anthropological research methods in all aspects of my life. Certainly the practice of carefully assessing all aspects of a situation, being open and honest about multiple interpretations of a single event, and learning from your mistakes have served me well in understanding Korea. Towards the end of the research year, I began a blog that I often use as a way to systematize my cultural/life observations and personal research. It was inspired in large part by the journaling I began with my research project. It has kept me honest with myself.
Finally, in the writing of this paper, I am reminded even further of the gratitude I feel for the amazing people I have had the opportunity to teach and to learn from. My students are teachers, just as much as my professors have been (and having had some really spectacular professors, that’s saying quite a lot). This job is special, but not because we’re miracle workers or martyrs. Teaching affords us a unique and direct view of the human spirit in progress and the human mind at work; one cannot but wonder at humanity’s capabilities. I hope I will always be able to appreciate that.
--excerpt from "Better than Good Enough: One AP Language and Composition teacher uses Writing Workshop techniques to develop her curriculum within the confines of a standardized testing environment," final graduate thesis
And the classes on subjects as varied as Children's Literature and Memoir Writing in between, I will always cherish these moments for reflection on the act of writing and teaching writing. Life often gets in the way of leisure time for intellectual development; I know that unless I choose to return for a Ph.D. or MFA in Creative Writing, it is unlikely I will get this kind of intellectual luxury again in such intense doses.
(But of course I spent all day researching Ph.D. programs in Australia and England... I'm so "special").
Anyhow... I'm both relieved and sad to dry the ink on this chapter in my life. I will miss it, but now I can choose my intellectual pursuits without regard to term papers and course requirements. Today, however, for the first time in awhile, I feel proud of myself and my accomplishment.
And that's a fine feeling.