I Get to Teach Adults
I have a lot of teaching experience. Three years as a full-time social studies teacher at the middle and high school levels. More than twenty years teaching American Jewish history to seventh and eighth graders in evening and Sunday programs. A semester leading a creative writing workshop for ninth graders in Brooklyn. Countless one-day and multi-day workshops, mostly at the middle school level. What this means, though, is that I’ve never taught adults at all, and never taught writing to anyone over the age of 16.
I enjoy teaching young people. They are creative, enthusiastic, willing to try anything. Middle schoolers especially, are beginning to explore their world of possibilities and question everything adults have told them. I tell prospective middle school teachers that they need to entertain the students (while teaching them new things) or said teachers will be the entertainment.
Will these principles work for teaching adult writers? I will soon find out. This summer, I’m teaching at Highlights for the first time, in the Summer Camp in Fiction. I’ve attended workshops at Highlights as well as numerous “un-workshops” or writing retreats. Now I’m on the other side of the table, giving a keynote, offering a workshop, and critiquing student work. Given my interest in other times and places, I’m planning to focus on setting for both the keynote and the workshop. Since both are supposed to be generative, inspiring students to try new things, I plan to show how writers can live in their settings alongside their characters. I experienced this when I was writing Torch. I imagined myself walking in the woods with Lída, her father, and her boyfriend Pavol, and listening with Štepán and his older brother in their shared upstairs bedroom to the singing drunks passing their small townhouse on their way to the new housing estate on the edge of town. And Tomáš’s train set — his pride and joy. Well, you know where that comes from.
With the workshop, I’m going to try the kind of hands-on approach that works so well with children and teens. I will pair participants up to give “tours” of their fictional worlds, inviting their partner to become part of the scene. Maybe it will inspire a new scene. Maybe it will show writers what in that created environment is most important to the story, and what still needs to be filled in. Maybe the plan will flop altogether, though I hope not. I want workshop participants to enjoy the process, to play within their worlds the way children play with their toys and my students played within their history simulations.
But wait! There’s more! On July 27 at 7 pm ET, I’m part of a group of six panelists who will be talking about “Creating Compelling Kidlit Characters with Disabilities” for a Zoom workshop sponsored by SCBWI Ohio North. Since it is a Zoom panel, the attendees are not restricted by geography — you don’t have to live in northern Ohio — and there’s no limit on the number of people (as there is for the Highlights Summer Camp, which is apparently full). Having written autistic characters for picture books through YA novels as well as a chapter book biography of autistic animal scientist Temple Grandin, I can speak to the ways one can create characters for readers of all ages. For more information and to register (it’s free for all SCBWI members!) check out this link. Update: This event is made possible by a Regional Grant from SCBWI. Hope to see you there!