Teacher feature: Helena Clare Pittman on affirmation through teaching

Teacher feature
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Writing for Children and Writing a Small-Scale Memoir teacher Helena Clare Pittman shares some insights into both her teaching and creative processes.

Director Stacia M. Fleegal: What excites you, inspires you, makes you grin from ear to ear about your Center class? Where is the joy for you in the teaching? Is there any relationship between the pleasure you feel teaching and the pleasure you feel when you’re writing?

HCP: It excites me terribly to read student work in response to the things I have assigned. I’ve crafted those assignments with the hope that my words will touch that place that releases someone to write. So when I read the revelations uncovered by their work I just rejoice. It is at those times I am reassured that what I am doing is helpful, and that is the best feeling in the world.

The joy comes from witnessing someone else’s self-discovery. Self-discovery opens the vitality in a person. Vitality is the free flowing of life, and it gets blocked up all the time. Let’s face it, this isn’t a world that says, when I walk out the door, “Hey, Helena, great to see you, what you are doing and trying and yearning for are marvelous, keep going!” No one calls every morning to tell me that. So I am so grateful for the opportunity to read the assignments I get back and have a vehicle through which I can say that to each of my students, because there is so much good, so much written that’s worthwhile on the pages they submit. I know for myself, when I am affirmed, when my own vitality is unblocked, when the debris that covers it is cleared away, through writing, or painting or some other focused effort, or through someone else’s affirmation of me I am so grateful. This is what I try to do with my feedback to my students—affirm. The result is that they open through the writing. As I read their work I really marvel at the depth and sincerity of it. There is just nothing that surpasses that reason to teach. So it is a rediscovery for me, that the teaching I do is not just about me. That alone is affirmation. We are all in this together.

Writers, where does your affirmation come from? Share with us in the comments!

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