My students turned in their first assignment: a short essay offering a "portrait" of themselves as writers. Reading them, I find myself both fascinated and frustrated. Why? Well, I am extremely interested in my students' stories—one primary purpose of the assignment is for me to get to know them—but, so far, I haven't written any comments on the papers. I am hesitant to begin.
These essays are testaments to the diversity of students' perspectives on writing. Many talk about how they like freedom in writing. They enjoy free writing and wish they had time to keep a journal. Other students lament that they lack the creativity necessary to be a "good writer" and talk about how they prefer to stick to clear formulas for essay organization and development.
My students come from different social and cultural backgrounds. Many of them are bilingual (One talks in her paper about her frustration with juggling three languages—Spanish, Chinese, and English). They are interested in all sorts of subjects and have a variety of different majors—business, biochemistry, history, film, computer science, etc... After each essay I find myself with more questions.
Through my own experience working with student writers, and my experiences as a student, I know that teachers can have a striking impact on their students' writing practices. I keep thinking about my advisor's axiom for teaching writing: "The first rule is to do no harm."
It reminds me of knitting. I originally learned out of frustration with writing during my first year in college. Knitting offered clear progress. Something tangible. Substantial. Writing seemed illusive. I never knew when I was done, and everything could always be better. I hope that my students aren't driven to learn knitting for the same reasons I was.