Monday, February 24, 2014

Eighteen fine years

Standing in front of a class of students for the first time is intimidating, even if you’re wearing a suit.

There I was in November 1996, perhaps looking like an instructor and even sounding like one but definitely not feeling like one.

Two weeks earlier Red River College phoned me, asking whether I would like to teach.

Having been chewed up and spat out six months earlier by my bosses in corporate journalism, I said, “Sure.”

So I found myself standing in front of students in such programs as Culinary Arts and Business Administration, teaching how to write reports and letters.

I learned to teach – to get to know students, to respect their knowledge and interests, not to treat them like employees – by doing it in those classrooms. Thank you, students, for putting up with me.

In 1998 the job I really wanted, teaching journalism full time in Creative Communications, became available when Donald Benham left the college for CBC Radio.

I was ready and willing to step in. Able? That could come later.

Now, after 16 almost completely happy years teaching journalism, it’s my turn to leave.

In May, at the end of this semester, I plan to retire. My wife and I plan to move back to Toronto to be closer to family, but I know I will miss students and colleagues.

Many instructors have guided, corrected and amused me, none so memorably as the bitter veteran, one of the first I met, who slammed her papers down at the end of each day and exclaimed, “This job would be great if it weren’t for the students.”

She glared at me and I stared back, and I resolved never to be that person.

For me, it’s been the students, with their energy, their individuality and yes, their enduring capacity to be exasperating, who have made each day an energizing prospect.

The students, and the discovery that I don’t have to wear a suit every day. Or any day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Muscular, crepuscular

“Is the literary world elitist?” asks the headline on a provocative piece by Laura Miller, a senior writer for Salon.

Miller takes as her text an essay in Metro by Eleanor Catton, a New Zealand novelist and the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for her second novel, The Luminaries.

Catton, in her turn, was reacting to a comment on Twitter complaining that the use of the word “crepuscular,” relating to twilight, is self-indulgent and elitist.

Because what is Twitter for, if not to complain about self-indulgence?

My colleague K.I. Press, author of three books of poetry with another one in progress, shared these essays with Creative Communications instructors this week after we indulged in another of those discussions about what language skills we should expect from post-secondary students.

I would love to see a student use “crepuscular” properly in an assignment in journalism, my area.

Vigorous, specific language works well in journalism – even if it sends a reader to a dictionary. Especially if it sends a reader to a dictionary.

The person who dies with the largest vocabulary wins.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thursday Reading & Writing Club

Kudos to my fellow Creative Communications instructor Kenton Larsen, who has started a voluntary Thursday after-class writing club.

Because reading makes anyone a better writer, Kenton wanted to ask students to read something.

To aid the cause, I have donated a few books, good, bad and otherwise. Many contain my comments and questions; I love talking back to writers.

Five of the books are by Mike McIntyre, a grad of our program and a prolific reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Kenton and the students can agree on the rules. But I suggest students take one book at a time and keep it. The following week they would share (or, even better, demonstrate) something they have learned about writing from the book.

If all the books go, I have more.