As some of you might be aware, when I’m not busy with reading, writing and the various other things I do with my life, I’m busy pretending to be a normal person by working as a high school teacher. I teach students mostly aged between 12 and 18, and although I am trained in English and History, I teach other subjects too, such as Mathematics.
For a couple of weeks, I have been teaching, among various classes, what is called an “Extension English” class to two of the older students – a class specifically designed for students who love reading and writing, to help them extend their talents in the area. They are currently looking at Gothic literature (particularly The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole), and recently wrote their own short stories in this genre for an assessment task. For the few lessons I have them, I have been helping them restructure and rewrite their stories in a less linear, more tension-filled manner.
And at the end of the first week (I only see them once a week for a couple of hours), I said something really stupid: “I know, how about I write my own short story to show you how I do it?”
Goodness knows why I suggested this, but the suggestion met with approval, and that was it, I was locked in. The rules were simple – it had to be in a Gothic setting, and it had to contain a shadow, a reflection, and a premonition. For the sake of showing them non-linear narrative structure, I also decided I needed to start my story in the middle, and use flashbacks to slowly reveal parts of the story. I also needed to keep it short, which is a challenge for me on the best of days.
I found myself busy for most of the intervening week, and ended up writing the whole 3000 word story in the space of a couple of hours squeezed into some spare time here and there. Actually, despite the complete lack of planning, and also my complete lack of experience in the genre, the story worked its way onto the page (or screen) with remarkable ease. I only had time to quickly proofread it and make one tiny change near the end, and then I had to print it off, hope it was half decent, and use it to help teach them what I had planned.
A couple of days ago I sat down with these students and read their revised stories as they read my hastily written tale. It was a nerve-wrecking moment – I very rarely show anybody my creative writing, and have never shown a student my writing like this before. I noticed, my eyes flicking up a couple of times, that they were glued to the story, and one of them shuddered at the end, creeped out by my intentionally freaky ending. But, thank goodness, they liked the story, and most importantly, they understood what I was trying to teach them about structure and a few other techniques I used in my piece.
So there we have it – I have taught writing by my own example! It was scary, but worth it and quite rewarding on the whole. It’s nice to be able to talk the talk and also walk the walk (even if it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece). And I think I’ve found the next genre for my 12 Novellas challenge (which I am going to return to with a vengeance in July).
How do you feel about showing your writing to other people? Does it make you nervous? Would you ever consider using it to teach as I have, in any kind of teaching context?