I taught my last session of my Article I class for this Gotham Writers Workshop term today, and they put me in such a good mood. They’re one of my two favorite class groups I’ve had in my five years of teaching. (I won’t tell you the other one; if you ever took one of my classes, feel free to think it’s you. But I really do have one other particularly memorable group.) Class chemistry is such a funny thing, and it’s something I didn’t even realize existed until I taught. I had a pretty good first class ever, and thought it would always be that easy. It’s not. And it all depends on group dynamics; Survivor is interesting for a reason. (But no, we do not vote people out of my class.) Sometimes you get a group heavy on people who want to be there, who participate, and who contribute interesting insights of their own to the class. When that happens, a bond forms. No one wants to be the jerk in the class, so anyone who would’ve straggled steps up. This raises the level of critiquing, discourse, and, eventually, the writing. The last few weeks all I’ve seen from this class are stories that could be published in a big, mainstream publication almost as is. We also had 100-percent retention. That is almost unheard of in continuing-education classes, even moreso for those that meet during the day.
There’s a simple reason it went so well: They all did the stuff I talked about in my How to Get the Most Out of Your Writing Teacher post. (Or at least most of them did these things most of the time, and had good reason when they didn’t.) This has a reinforcing effect among all of them, and fosters mutual respect. I often have a hard time getting them out of the damn classroom instead of staying and talking to each other all afternoon when class ends.
The class groups that fall apart do so in different ways. Mostly, it’s because you get a preponderance of people who are stragglers and very few anchors who can hold it together. People all start coming late, and see that it seems okay, because, hell, everyone’s coming late anyway, and no matter how much I emphasize that they should be on time, and no matter how much I start on time even with one student there, it doesn’t matter. They follow the group dynamic. Then most people stop bringing in their homework. Now there’s nothing to discuss. I’m getting emails asking me for class notes from those who are absent, and I have to explain that my policy is that you either come to class or get notes from a generous classmate. I dispense the information in the classroom, end of story. Otherwise, why have a class?
In any case, my class this time was a joy, and they made me a better teacher by being better students. One of them even brought brownies for our last class together! I’ll miss them — and my next class has its work cut out for them.