Not Only Has GrubStreet Made Me a Better Instructor, It Has Made Me a Better Person
Some call them writing workshops — I call them therapy sessions.
As a new instructor at GrubStreet, I thought I knew what to expect when I walked into my first "Jumpstart Your Writing" class this past January. We would discuss the setbacks students experience when it comes to writing, which would encompass everything from the misconceptions surrounding syntax to why they couldn't get their novel off the ground. Writing is an amazing tool for self-improvement and while I was extremely excited at the prospect of consistently teaching writing (a dream of mine since I was a teenager), I actually feared all of the egos I would encounter during my first day at Grub. The notion that I would be facilitating workshops for a bunch of arrogant and pretentious writers truly frightened me; I legitimately questioned if I was cut out for this demographic. Now, as I write this one week away from the last session of my current "Jumpstart Your Writing" series, I realize that teaching at GrubStreet was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
It turns out that writing, for all of my students, has been a motivating device for discovering deeper revelations about themselves. When I asked the class to describe the scars on their body, a woman addressed what she saw in the mirror after years of battling breast cancer. When I distributed visuals as writing prompts, my quietest student displayed his lyrical fortitude in one of the most brilliant personification poems about fire I had ever read. When one of the assigned group readings about Malcolm X spurred a heated debate about race and misogyny (which led us to take a break), a few students decided to continue to talk outside in defense of their opposing viewpoints. Not only are my students humble and inquisitive and transparent and immensely talented, they are fearless. Not only do they battle their biggest demons on paper weekly, they know the importance of cultivating safe spaces for their peers and always show each other respect and consideration — even when they may think someone's idea or stance is far-fetched. The level of maturity and grace my students have never ceases to amaze me, and neither does their love of learning.
Last month, I held my first writing group consisting solely of former Grub students at my apartment. We plan on having them every month. While we complete writing exercises and share any progress we've made in the literary world, we also talk about our lives: who we're dating, how our jobs are going, what our families have been up to. When people scoff at taking writing workshops post-college, they should not only open up to the idea of receiving meaningful and constructive feedback, but to the notion of becoming part of a supportive and long lasting community as well. Not only has GrubStreet made me a better instructor, it has made me a better person. I have dug deeper within myself to connect with all of my students, feel more comfortable than ever conducting workshops, and am excited to start writing my own poetry again. Not only do I look forward to teaching more classes at Grub, I am constantly thinking of how to make them better. I have found my footing when it comes to teaching and feel grateful that I am instrumental in the healing process for other people.
As a dedicated music journalist and educator, Candace McDuffie has been freelancing for over a decade. Her work has appeared for Glamour, Forbes, Teen Vogue, Vibe, and several other publications. She received her M.A. from the University of Massachusetts at Boston, where she specialized in Critical and Creative Thinking. Candace enjoys working with youth and previously taught at the nonprofit teen literacy program, Books of Hope. For more information on Candace, you can visit her website at candacemcduffie.com.See other articles by Candace McDuffie