Teach What You Don't Know

As a writer and teacher, I’m interested in both the gaps and overlaps between the two fields.


Not surprisingly, I feel most at home in front of my creative writing classes – I’ve studied craft formally, have read hundreds of books about the creative process, and have been practicing writing steadily for the past twenty years.


But this year, I have found myself in the strange position of teaching a film class – strange because I don’t own a television, haven’t watched a movie all the way through in years and know next to nothing about the art of filmmaking.


It’s a set-up for disaster.


And yet, oddly enough, the experience of teaching a class that I am in no way qualified to teach feels a lot like the experience of writing.


My wife – who's still bitter at me for not taking her to a single movie since our first date ten years ago – asked me, when I first signed up to teach this course, why on earth I would want to teach a class on film.


And my response – because I’ll have no idea what I’m doing – would have probably sounded much stranger if it weren’t the exact same answer that keeps me writing.


And even though the course, as a whole, has felt like a rough draft (a very public rough draft with a lot of grammatical errors), teaching it has offered me the pleasures and anxieties of not-knowing and that need to move forward with the faith that I’ll figure it out along the way – has reminded me that teaching, like writing, is a life-long apprenticeship.


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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

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