It is a privilege to witness the transformation that happens when someone begins to uncover their own abilities—and you can often learn something yourself, tooby Cathy Rentzenbrink / June 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
I’m missing my students. For the first half of the year, I taught a course in Creative Non-Fiction at my local university. Every Monday afternoon I walked down the hill and into a seminar room and spent a highly enjoyable three hours talking about the ethics of memoir writing, and how to turn a space into a place, and whether or not biography needs to cover a whole life. We read about Goya and Virginia Woolf and looked at different types of maps and discussed the importance of accuracy and truth and the nature of memory.
And I was happy. February—usually my cruelest month—whizzed by. I have long thought that the right kind of work can be a bulwark against depression and those Monday afternoons saved me from succumbing to the morose introspection that peaks for me at the end of the winter and isn’t helped by lots of time alone, staring at my computer screen, fretting about the book I am writing. Instead, being with my students filled me with joy and hope.
I’ve loved teaching since the last year of primary school when I used to help the younger children with their reading. It is a privilege to witness the transformation that happens when someone begins to uncover their own abilities. What’s more, I find that it is in showing someone else how to do something that I remember how much I know, often discovering new depths and resonances. It feels primal to me. From the beginning of time, humans have worked to transfer knowledge and information to the younger tribe members. When I imagine what role I’d play in a cave people-style community, I know I wouldn’t be the doctor or the trader, but might well be the bard or the teacher.
The students reminded me of myself, of course, or of the many selves I was when younger. Their ages ranged from 19 to 30 and I was fascinated that they were poised on a continuum between me and my son, Matt. I liked to imagine us as an unpacked set of Russian dolls. Matt at the start, the newest and smallest at nine years old, then the students, and me at the other end, at…