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Teacher-student or student-teacher?

A remarkable thing has happened these last six months: I entered a new season (and I’m not talking about middle age, she said in full-blown denial). I became an instructor at

Webster University Leiden, and now I seem surrounded by people, and my days are full of conversations with others, teaching about writing, essays, final papers, and correcting papers.

I have the best class: students from the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, South America and North America. I get sidetracked way too often, but their grades from essays in other classes are improving, so we must be doing something right. Poor things, I have them writing essays every week. But at least we now all know the difference between its and it’s.

But there’s more. Because I want to also teach at the graduate level, I’ve gone back to school. Since May I’ve been taking evening classes at Webster toward an MA in International Relations. My fellow students come from Sudan, Cameroon, Russia, the U.S., NL, Afghanistan, Nigeria, China, well–you get the idea.

My first class last summer was about China in Africa. During the simulation game at the end I represented Mauritania (the country I wrote my final paper on). I stole billions from the bank and made more deals with China and the U.S. than oil-rich Nigeria. Hmm, maybe I missed my calling.

So in addition to lesson plans and correcting essays, my days and nights are also full of reading textbooks, writing papers, preparing presentations, research, purusing databases and downloading journal articles.

Did I mention I’m also running the Writing Center at Webster? And editing the university’s online publication, The CANAL? The best part about the Writing Center is watching students’ faces when they realize what they want to write about. This teaching . . . I feel like it is what I was born to do.

Friends and family ask me, “What about your latest novel?” Hmm, don’t quite know what to say. I still manage to work on it a few hours every week. I think this is a season, and I am loving it, investing in it for the long haul. During the IR discussions I am acutely aware of how the work and research and writing I’ve done up to now has all contributed to my being right here, right now. The writing will continue–it’s who I am; It is just taking different shapes.

What do I mean? A familiar illustration for time management is a large vase with big rocks, being filled to the top. The instructor asks, “Can I fit any more in?” The students shake their heads no. The instructor pours a bag of pebbles into the vase. He asks the same question. Everyone says no. He pours a bucket of sand into the vase. Again he asks, “Can I fit any more in?” Again, the class says no. Now he pours a bottle of water into the vase. Then he asks, “What am I illustrating?” A student says, “That you can always do more.” The instructor says, “No. This shows that you have to get your big rocks in first.”

In other words, my writing is still a big rock–I’m just writing papers and researching a thesis now and working on my novel. It will come. There is a season for everything. I think my vase just got bigger.

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