The teaching practicum is one of the cornerstones of Goddard’s MFA. Students graduate from Goddard having developed and conducted a writing workshop in their communities. As she gets ready for her own practicum, current student Catherine Aarts is reading Wallace Stegner, and here she shares her musing about her upcoming role as facilitator.
“Stegner reminds us that we are in a position of power when it comes to teaching, and it is our responsibility to consider our thoughts carefully before we share them with the participants. He counsels us about our students:
They need to be assured that their urge to write is legitimate…they must not be dismissed flippantly—these are hearts you are treading on. Before a teacher tells anyone he is good, and has that magical promise, he had better make sure of what he is saying; before he discourages anyone, he had better remember how intimate a thing writing is and how raw the nerves that surround it. It [teaching] is more an attitude than a technique.”
– Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction
“There is a sensitivity present and a vulnerability when people expose themselves through the written word. We must be mindful of our reactions. While wanting to impart honest and useful feedback, we also want to be sensitive to our delivery, especially when we have an audience that may not be aiming for literary greatness, but just a vehicle to express themselves, or to get a story out, or any number of reasons someone might come to a more community minded writing workshop versus a college course.
“The important lessons I took away from Stegner’s advice include: be present and create an atmosphere that celebrates writing and all that makes it good; be enthusiastic and impart that spark to those in your company; allow participants to make realizations on their own, and to learn from one another; know and model the constructive way to look at the work, remembering that the work is separate from the person, but it is also of the person. Wallace Stegner’s sense of integrity comes through in this collection of work and reminds the reader to hold true to the ideals of good writing, but to also not hold on so tightly that you risk alienating someone or breaking their dreams because you did not have the sense as an instructor to recognize the difference in their aspirations and your own.”
Catherine Aarts is currently a MFA candidate at Goddard College in Vermont where she is working on her first novel. She resides in northern Vermont. She is a massage therapist who enjoys massaging words as well as people. Her work has recently appeared in The Pitkin Review and the online journal, lowercase. You can follow her at: @aarts_catherine.