Growing up, I heard it again and again: “Are you going to be a teacher like your mom?”
“Ha! No way!” I’d exclaim.
I would be a writer, perched behind the gigantic mahogany desk of my imagination, a pile of books framing me on either side as dust particles danced in the glow of an antique lamp. A realistic goal, clearly.
In my time at Drake University, to my surprise, I’ve adopted the teacher role — and for a long time, I didn’t want to admit it. There are five generations of female teachers on my mother’s side of the family, but I clung to the notion of, “I’m an individual, damn it! An editor. A rebel.”
In 2013, I trained to be a writing tutor at the Adult Literacy Center at Drake.
“I’m a mentor, not a teacher,” I’d clarify, channeling my inner ‘rebel.’ As my student — a native Spanish speaker — and I worked through foreign sounds and dedicated over 20 minutes to the pronunciation of a single word, at times, I discovered my inner teacher and the role I had been loath to acknowledge and engage before.
Teaching, I realized, manifests in unexpected ways, no matter my self-proclaimed ‘editor’ title. That unpredictability felt particularly real when my Teaching Writing class was assigned a real-world project.
No more hypothetical “Student 1” and “Student 2.” We would provide feedback on essays about The Great Gatsby for high school seniors in Guadalajara, Mexico, via the Internet. Talk about intimidating.
In my initial feedback to Rocio, my student, I provided vague suggestions and tiptoed around big-picture possibilities for development. To my anxiety, it was no longer my responsibility to add commas and correct pronoun/antecedent agreement; I had to become a teacher and abandon my beloved editor role.
The dramatic shift from an editorial role to a teacher role forced me to examine writing in a big-picture way.
Rather than stay in my comfort zone of editing for grammar and mechanics, I had to step back and ask myself what I hoped to achieve in the long-term. Though that shift in the way I examine writing — and think, in general — was uncomfortable, I have a better understanding of the discourse in which I work and a newfound ability to approach writing in big-picture way. Plus, I saw growth in the clarity, development and communication of Rocio’s analysis of The Great Gatsby.
I entered the project hopeful I’d see her grow as a writer. I didn’t realize how much I would grow as a respondent and teacher in a few short weeks.
As I continue to tutor my Adult Literacy Center student for a second year, I’ve adopted another unexpected teacher role. I’m teaching the new Times-Delphic editor-in-chief how to survive — and thrive — in one of the toughest jobs on campus. How to learn from the inevitable error on the page. How to balance fun and productivity in the workplace. And a whole lot more I can’t even begin to predict.
Along the way, I hope I’ll teach her how to be a better editor, writer and maybe, teacher.