Thoughts on Teaching Style

Pedagological Explorations:
Professionalism Tree #1
Practicum - Jimmy Butts
"Observing a Teacher"
Fall 2016 Semester

Jennifer Davis runs her workshops just a little better than everyone else. I’ve been involved in some form of creative writing workshop for nearly a decade, and I can say this with absolute conviction. I’m not sure what it is, because I don’t believe it’s possible to narrow it down to only one thing. It’s more of the collective process as a whole—when you’re writing and reading with Jennifer—that’s magic. It’s the experience. It’s the bright gems you take away unknowingly, to discover months later, in a story. Simply put, it’s just her.

Jennifer runs a hard workshop. It will scrape your insides clean out that first day. After that first initial workshop at the semester’s beginning, you’ll go home a crazy combination of defeated and invigorated. That’s the thing: you take a beating in her workshops. Every facet of your submission is examined and invaded and prodded and poked and taken apart and put back together again, or maybe not—sometimes, at workshop’s end, you’ll realize the life’s been beaten out of the thing. But if this happens (and it’s happened) that’s okay, too. Jennifer hands you back its carcass and you realize the thing you want to do most in that moment is to begin again. Fingers itching, you’re all hyped-up on that peculiar pleasure-pain which settles in after a good workshop. The writer’s version of “runner’s high”, if you will.

Jennifer’s workshops are emotional. You will rise and fall within a span of three hours, and come away a little breathless. She brings to class a combination of things: a real and tender earnestness; an enthusiasm to dig her heels in deep and stay for as long as it takes; a snapping turtle’s propensity for latching onto a thing or problem and not letting go until lightning strikes. Her letters of critique sometimes span five or six pages. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to receive one of these, so fat with words, with wisdom. Her letters are intricate affairs, carefully-crafted things that compliment and criticize dually. She manages to do something few people are successful at: shooting straight, without breaking the writer’s spirit. But make no mistake, Jennifer is hard on you. She’s hard on your writing. She expects the moon and hopefully, eventually, with a lot of elbow grease, you’ll be able to provide it for her one day. That’s your hope. That’s what she inspires in you.

Jennifer is not your mother, but there’s no one I’d rather bring my problems or insecurities to. She is her own form of a safe space, because she keeps her eyes honest and you can see how much she cares. She won’t lie to you or provide false comfort. She won’t take pity on you because something is hard. But she will give you the compliments you deserve, provide the tiny poke that fire in your belly’s been needing to keep going and burning and growing bright. She will tell you honest things and allow for a transparency as thin as a sheet. And because of all this, you’ll leave feeling better with a confidence based in truth, and you’ll realize she gave this to you, and you are glad.

Jennifer brings spirit to the workshop space. She approaches it as an athlete would a field. And somehow, along the way, she teaches you how to do this too.

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