Tag Archives: teaching

Docendo Discimus: We Learn by Teaching by Katy Lee

Salve, it’s me, Katy Lee, and today I’m practicing my Latin on you. My kids think it’s only fair if they have to learn it, then so should I. But I have to say even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t be a good teacher for them if I didn’t learn right along beside them. How would I inspire them when they struggled? How could I help them if I, myself didn’t understand? The truth is I couldn’t.

Home educating my children was not something I entered into lightly. I knew it would be a commitment that would stake claim to the nume unus place in my life. Their education isn’t something to let slide like the laundry. They are depending on me for their preparation into the world. They are counting on me for the knowledge needed to make good decisions in regards to their lives.

So…Quo vadis? Where am I going with this? What would happen if I provided them with untruths? Facts made up because I was too lazy to do the research.

I might be able to get away with it for a little while, but honestly, my daughter would take so much delight in proving me wrong that in the end I would be the one with ovum on my face. (That’s an egg, BTW) And I know she’s not the only one. This world is full of people itching to catch someone in an untruth.

As writers we cannot be caught flubbing it. (Sorry, I couldn’t find the Latin word for flubbing) The fact is we need to do the research. We need to take our commitment in teaching the reader seriously. Because isn’t that what a writer is? A magister, or magistra in my feminine case?

Writers are teachers. Whether your main character in your story is a medical examiner or a horse trainer, whether your story carries a moral or aims only to entertain you still have research to do for your reader to get a full understanding. For your reader to learn something. And I can guarantee there will be at least one reader out there itching to catch you in a flub.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be an expert on something before you can write about it. But you have to be willing to invest the time needed to become the go-to person on a particular subject. That means shadowing a professional or interviewing experienced people in your field of interest. Get it from the horse’s mouth. (equus for all you Latin lovers.) The internet is great, and you can get a wealth of knowledge from it, but firsthand experience will be best if you can find it. No one can catch you in a flub if it’s the truth.

The Unlocked Secret: Vincit omnia veritas. Truth conquers all. When your work is backed by truth, you are golden. And not only that, but you, yourself, will be smarter for it because if you can teach it, you know you’ve learned it.

Question: What are your favorite ways to get your facts straight? Who have you had the pleasure of interviewing, and what did you learn?

Voila tout! That’s all!

Those Who Can’t Do…

Before I found my calling teaching small autistic children I did a short stint teaching high school English. I know how trying typical teenagers can be ( I know I was) but I got to teach the alternative kids. The ones with criminal records and emotional problems. The students who were barely passing, and found it more stimulating to smoke outside by the tree than come to class. I liked English and walked in my first day with all these expectations and big plans. But this is no romantic story of a teacher overcoming the odds and reaching her students. I was no Michelle Pfeiffer  in Dangerous Minds. This was not Freedom Writers.

I was twenty-one when I started with them. The oldest girl in my class was twenty, barely six months my junior. I couldn’t tell those kids what to do like most teachers. Seriously, who wants to listen to a twenty-one year old anyway? I had to cajole, manipulate and in a couple of cases beg a few of them to listen. In the meanwhile I had to teach Shakespeare. Julius Caesar. All of them hated it and frankly I didn’t blame them. They couldn’t relate to it. The language was difficult to understand and even I was faking enthusiasm for my least favorite play. I did them a favor, printed out SparkNotes for everybody and created the test from that. Only half of them passed. Of course, while my spirits sank and I started to rethinking this whole being-a- teacher- thing, my cooperating teacher assured me that it wasn’t my fault. ” Look on the bright side. At least nobody cut class today.”

Thankfully we moved on to other units. Short stories, American Classics and poetry. Poetry? Poetry! When I enthusiastically announced that we were going to study and then write poetry all I got were blank stares. One kid mumbled, “I $%&*ing hate poetry.”

I liked poetry in high school. I remember reading Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou as a teenager and thinking I had found my personal anthem. I wanted that for them. I wanted them to find a poem they loved and identify with it. So, I exposed them to a lot of poetry. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (Which I got a couple I -don’t -get -it’s.) The Raven  which is actually really just kind of dark and creepy and awesome. They didn’t find it as awesome as I did until I showed them The Simpson’s version of the poem. ( Click The Raven to see it.) How cool was I?! (Not very.) I earned bonus points for the day but they still weren’t excited until I introduced them to Poetry Slam and Def Poetry and spoken word artists. One kid said, “Hey, that’s not poetry it’s hip hop without music.” Ding! Ding! AHA and Woot! Woot!

How could I have forgotten that songs are poems without music? From there I started to forget about the classics and pulled the lyrics to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and stuff by Bob Dylan and all those great protest songs from the late sixties. Some of them even liked it but I found myself falling in love with this genre of writing the more I taught it.

Then came the part of the unit where they had to write their own stuff and my blank stares and ‘I $%&*ing hate poetry,’ returned. I could teach them all about stanzas and couplets and rhyme schemes but I couldn’t inspire them to be creative. A lot of poems are about life experiences and pain and while this class probably had more of that than most kids their age I just couldn’t get them to put it down on paper. So what did I do? Fill in the blank poems. It was like Mad Libs for poetry and a total cop-out but it got them writing.

What’s the point of all of this? I hate teenagers. Just kidding. But seriously, teaching writing, and poetry is hard and I will gladly admit that it is not one of my strengths. That’s why I admire English teachers, mentors, the people who help us shape our writing and inspire us to put words on paper. Sometimes a little education can be a good thing.

Sharing time! How do you feel about poetry? Got a favorite? Hate it? Write it? Any real English or writing teachers out there? Leave any comment you would like.