by Suzanne Reisler Litwin
There is one element which separates my classes from other classes you might take. Perhaps this is the one uncomfortable element for some. Others might embrace this opportunity and can’t stop themselves from exchanging in it. What makes my courses so different from others is a simple element.
My classroom environment is one of sharing. Whether it is our latest prose, poetry, or life experience, we share it. Whether it is the fresh political landscape, the crushing weather, the Halloween celebrations, the sadness, illness, strangeness, or “lackness”, we listen and share. In truth we learn so much more from each other, that sometimes the sharing is richer than the actual lessons.
I start all my courses with a “get to know you” exchange. After I tell the students about my background and work, I say, “Now, tell us about your classmates”, which begins the pairing and the interview process. Questions like: What do you hope to achieve in taking this course? What do you dislike, in general? What is your favourite color? Etc. We get to know each other and in doing so we quickly find out that although everyone is quite different, we have a lot in common. The common ground and new awareness builds the foundation from which we create our learning environment. In a few classes, the students flourish and blossom to the point that when the end of the course comes, I feel a loss. My Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday nights are emptier. I miss my students and I miss our sharing.
At first it is difficult for some students to share their written work. Many students feel their words are not worthy of verbal exchange. Some don’t like to share at all. Some just prefer to listen and learn from others. Other students love to share their work to the point that their exchange could be a full personal memoir or a stand-up comic routine. Sometimes, it can even be therapy and enlightening. Sometimes it breaks down pre-conceived barriers and opens up lines of communications. In a few cases, the sharing has made lifelong friendships and even a love connection or two.
Words can be that powerful
I teach courses in creative writing, writing for children, creative non-fiction and writing for the web (blogging). I personally and professionally write in all these genres. Each term I am honored to have a class of students who want to learn how to write, or write better, or write more often, and/or potentially get published. Some students just want to meet other writers and learn about writing. For whatever reason the students come to my course, they enter the world of sharing one’s work.
It’s amazing what you can learn from other students. I find as the instructor, I am simply the guide to their own creativity and creations. The students make it happen on their own with some guidance. The learning that happens just from our sharing and exchanges are priceless. This is what makes the ultimate lesson. Each student achieves greatness not solely from my lessons but from their own perspective of the content and the exchange. Their writing improves just from listening to the classmate who wrote the most soulful personal essay. Their writing improves from the classmate who wrote about their sadden childhood. Their writing improves from the one who tapped into their funny bone and tickled it like a professional comic can. In one short term, we all grow and learn together.
Words Open up Worlds
At the half way mark of the term, the students are confident in their writing, determined to make it rich and in some cases are eager to exchange simply based on their pride that they can evoke an emotional or a sensorial journey. They take great pride in their titles, word choices, and finishing statements. If they are at a loss for that amazing title or excellent finishing statement, their classmates are always willing to provide suggestions.
It’s in a particular space and time that these life exchanges happen. It could have been during the summer of 2012 or the winter of 2014 or the fall of 2017, it’s a season in the life of developing and evolving people. This term we started in the dog days of summer, one evening in temperatures around 25c. We will end in December at a freezing point. We spent this season of life together, sharing our powerful words and growing as more etude and sensitive writers. I am one of these students. Although I am at the helm, I have also learned much through our exchange. I have learned about other lives, tribulations, creative entities and how to save a tooth which gets knocked out! Thanks to Mark Giesbrecht for his excellent mini-memoir titled, “The Tooth”.
I have learned that the best way to learn anything is to make it real. Not just real, but really real, as in the light of the day with full exposure. That if I can’t spell, I can’t and that’s clear. That if my writing is reactionary, it’s working and I will continue to work at making it even better.
The end of the term comes quickly, the season has changed and the students are enriched. I feel satisfaction that I gave my 100%, I just wish I had more time to share all I know about writing and create more with this amazing group of people.
At the end of the course, if all we have gained is not from the curriculum content but a new friendship or two, I feel we have been successful. For it’s not always the prescribed lessons you’ve sign up for, perhaps it’s the rich exchanges and life perspectives you have learned. That in turn is…the ultimate lesson.
Suzanne Reisler Litwin is an instructor at Concordia University in The Centre for Continuing Education – Communications Department. She is a writing instructor at The Cummings Centre. She writes a weekly column in The Suburban Newspaper and at the West Island Blog. Suzanne is a freelance contributor to The Suburban Newspaper, West Island Blog, Wise Women Canada, The Metropolitain, and Women on the Fence. She is the author of the children’s book, The Black Velvet Jacket. Visit suzannereislerlitwin.com to read more of her published articles, books, and poetry.