When someone asks me what I do, I say without hesitation that I teach writing. What has kept me engaged in teaching writing for more than 30 years? Empathy–empathy for the writer struggling to make meaning with words and delight when both writers and readers enjoy the rewards of that struggle.
In teaching writing, I am always first a reader. My extensive annotating of drafts is motivated by my engagement with both ideas and language. I also believe I shouldn’t be the only reader writers seek out, so in all my classes, students share drafts, revisions, and reflections on what they’re learning about writing, their subjects, and themselves.
I encourage and teach writing because writing is one way people do work in the world. That’s why I often ask writers to address real exigencies and imagine ways they might get their writing into the hands of people who can make use of it. Increasingly, my goal of seeing students move their writing into the world means asking them to compose new media–to use words, images, sound, and movement together to appeal to readers accustomed to reading on the screen and responding there as well.
I also teach and study writing because there is so much we still don’t know about how to learn to do it well. One thing I do know is that good writing requires a writer who is engaged with the task, a writer who cares enough about the writing to want it to get better and to be willing to work at it. Having an engaged teacher helps. It’s something I always aspire to be.