Author Bio

Those Who Can

posted: 10.29.14 by Barclay Barrios

My guest blogger today, Jenn Murray, has spent the last 16 years as a Midwesterner trying to adjust to life in South Florida. After many years at home with her children, Jenn is currently in her first year of the MA program at Florida Atlantic University, where she is studying multicultural literature and trying to narrow her research interests enough for a thesis.

Jenn’s post isn’t only about the stages we all go through in emerging as teachers.  It’s also about the ways in which teaching makes us better writers.  I have to admit—I never thought about this before.  But in taking a moment to reflect I realize she’s absolutely right.  When I am writing an article I have a much sharper sense of my argument and what it needs to do, a clearer sense of my organization and the moves I want to make, and a surer understanding of what evidence I want to bring to bear.  A lot of that comes from experience in the discipline but now I can see how parts of it come from teaching writing.  Cool.

I know you’ve heard the saying.  We’ve all heard it at one point or another.  “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”  It’s one of those snarky comments that get tossed around without much thought, but I am doing a lot of thinking about it right now.

I have grown quite accustomed to walking to the front of the classroom at the beginning of every semester.  My tendency to daydream is well-documented—beginning in Kindergarten each report card is emblazoned with a hand-written note from the teacher, some iteration of “She is very bright, if she would just stay focused in class”—so I always used sitting up front as a success strategy. It’s sometimes awkward, but if I am up front I am less likely to daydream. In a lot of ways this semester is no different.  And yet it is very, very different.  This semester, walking to the front of the classroom does not always involve stopping at the first row of seats.  Often it means walking to the front and taking my place as teacher.   This is a whole new level of awkward.

Armed with my copy of Elements (our program’s custom supplemental text) and a binder full of tips and strategies, I approached this role with quite a bit of trepidation.  “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Sure, but what if I simply can’t teach?

I walked in to that first College Writing class terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do the job.  No way would I quit, but could I actually do it? Looking at the classroom full of students, many of whom were sitting in their first college class ever, it occurred to me that we were in this thing together—and we had to make it out together. So we dove in.  We are well into the semester now, and I have managed to cover an incredible amount with my students.  We have read essays, answered contextual questions, and debated some pretty hot topics.  I am seeing improvement in the work that they are submitting. But there is something else, too. I am seeing improvement in the work that I am doing.  I am looking at my own work with a sharper eye.  I am thinking more carefully about my research and evaluating the structure of my own writing a little more critically.  I have come to the realization that that old saying may be wrong.  Those who can, do, sure.  But those who teach? Sometimes they manage to do better.

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