More than ten years ago when I was living in Marrakesh, I asked my Poetry class at Cadi Ayyad University about the poems they had written. What inspired them? The class started murmuring and whispering, until one of my bravest students said, “Uh, Professor. Excuse me. We don’t write poems.”
“How do you express falling in love? Or your observations of the natural world?” I asked.
“Music,” they said.
I get that. My Moroccan students were just like my American students: I’d have to look hard to find the poets. Better yet, I’d work to encourage students to become poets and readers of poetry. Fiction too. And drama.
This is why I teach. I want my students to have a broad repertoire of expression. I teach so that they will be able to write and read all sorts of things deeply: poems, letters to the editor, stories, novels, research papers, blogs, vignettes, essays and letters home. I want them to have a voice in their homes, neighborhoods, regions and on the web. It’s my life’s work to facilitate students in making critical and creative choices through language. I teach so that more people can give utterance to complex ideas.
I focus my teaching around the dilemmas that a writer faces. Sometimes, I look at sentences and lines. Other times, I look at the conceptual arc of a piece. In a warm, enthusiastic way, I pull writers into big conversations and small dissections of the ways in which language shines.
Together, my students and I practice being citizens at work in a civic space. We do this work through my classes in the University of Washington’s English Department where I am on the faculty and in UW’s Integrated Social Sciences program. Here is a description of teaching at UW.