Back 2 Basics
This semester, my colleague John McDonough and I are team-teaching E210, an undergraduate introductory creative writing course here at CSU. Both John and I are in the last semester of the three-year MFA program. We’re about to spread our wings and fly, basically. The two of us have spent the past two-point-five years reading, writing, and workshopping (in our respective genres, of course—John is fiction, I’m poetry). Also, we’ve been individually teaching CO150 courses throughout our time in the program.
So, why did John and I decide to team-teach a course neither of us has ever taught before and do it during (arguably) the most pressurized semester of our graduate school career?! One of the reasons that immediately comes to mind is the idea of community. We, as poets and writers and people interested in the literary world, know all too well that it can be difficult if not impossible to carry on one’s own creative work if one is not surrounded by or doesn’t have access to a community that cares (about us, about our work). With this in mind, John and I thought it important to try something new. Why not shake up the ol’ one-teacher method and show students a community? (Look, I know two people isn’t perhaps traditionally considered a ‘community.’ However, two people is more than one and so, math; I’m calling it a SMALL community.)
Another reason we chose to team-teach is because each of us is involved with a different one of the two main genres that E210 requires instructors to cover: poetry and fiction. Thus, team-teaching gives us insight into and experience with teaching genres other than our own. It also helps us learn how to take a step back, how to slow down, when it comes to teaching our own genre. Once a thing has become familiar, it can be difficult to break that thing down back to its basics. Though perhaps even more difficult, once the aforementioned breaking-down step is achieved, is then a coherent articulation of the fundamentals and contexts that make up and surround the thing and its parts.
It feels crucial to have John in the room while I’m excitedly relaying (in a tone ever so booming) a mini-lecture on the Denver-based poet Mathias Svalina and his use of the prose poem in Wastoid. You see, when I’ve covered too much ground in too little time, i.e., when I’ve just simply assumed that students know X, John is there to help me pull back. He often approaches this through asking a relevant question, sometimes to the class, sometimes to me. Having his fiction-self around is one way of keeping my fiery poet-self in check.
Plus, we’re able to cover twice as much surface area when it comes to students sharing their own work with one another. What I mean by this is that we often break the class up into smaller groups to discuss their creative, in-class writing experiments. While the groups are discussing their work, John and I are able to spread ourselves out across the class and drop in on twice as many small groups as a single instructor would be able to. This is important because students get more time to interact with their instructor(s), and we (the instructors) are able to effectively track student progress.
It’s also noteworthy that John and I team-teach our two E210 classes right in a row. We’re pretty much on our feet for a solid 3 hours, which is no easy feat (for me, at least. Also, did you see what I did there? Feet/feat. Yeah, I’m a poet).
What I’m trying to communicate is this: if you ever have the chance to team-teach with someone that you believe will challenge you, support you, and laugh at your bad jokes in front of a roomful of people, do it.