Friday, September 12, 2008

The best laid plans …

It’s September — one of my favorite months. September is the start of so many things, including school. In recent years I’ve discovered how much I love teaching, which is somewhat ironic. Fifty years ago, when I walked into my first classroom, I was ready to run for my life. What had I been thinking, majoring in elementary education? I didn’t belong there, staring at 20 little eight-year-olds and trying to keep them from swinging from the chandeliers. That year was an endurance contest; I survived, but barely.

Traumatized, I didn’t walk into a classroom again for decades. When I finally did it was my love of the subject matter and the conviction that I could actually teach it that broke the barrier. I was teaching writing to adults, adults who were eager to learn, eager to write.

For the last five or six years I’ve been sharing what I know about how to write, publish, and promote a nonfiction book. I wrote a workbook, which keeps getting fatter with each edition, and used it as a text in several different continuing education programs in St. Louis. With each class I hope I become a better teacher. The classes are never the same. The students are different; their subject matter is unique; the dynamics of the group change every time,

I throw my heart into these little six-week sessions, and my money as well, trying to devise the perfect way to provide helpful handouts that don’t break the community college’s budget. I am often able to line up terrific speakers who are experts in their respective fields. At the last session we always have a party, and the students (by now, budding authors) often stay together to form writing groups. Of all the things I do, teaching has become my passion.

I am ready for my next class, which is supposed to start Monday. But something is amiss. Apparently, enrollment at the all three campuses of the community college is down — way down. No one knows precisely why. Perhaps it’s the price of gas or the upcoming election, though how an election that is two months away could influence whether people sign up for night school is beyond me. More likely it is the belt tightening brought on by a sagging economy. Whatever the reason, my class, which often has to be closed when registration hits the maximum, has barely made the minimum.

I received a call yesterday informing me that, though there are only six people in the class, the school is willing to go ahead with it. “It’s up to you,” the caller said. I struggled with what to do for about it for a minute before I reluctantly cancelled. Classes always shrink for a variety of reasons, starting out with 15 and usually ending up with 12 committed students. I taught a class with six people a few years ago and watched it dwindle in size from six to two. Miraculously, we persevered through the six weeks and beyond. The two writers came to class every week and actually wrote their books. One illustrated hers, and the other is waiting to hear from a publisher.

Still, it was not an ideal situation. One of the strengths of these classes is the rapport and support that develops among the students. To establish that rapport you need critical mass, strange as that seems,

I’m disappointed, and the few people I know who e-mailed me to tell me they were taking the class are probably disappointed, as well. Perhaps they will sign up for the next session in chilly February. In light of what is going on in the country and the world right now, a cancelled class is a small thing. But for most of us, it is the small things that compose our lives: habits, routines, aspirations, plans.

But as Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” My cancelled class is just one more example of the that piece of wisdom.


Kim said...

Sorry to hear that you had to cancel class. On the bright side, now you won't have to miss the publishers association meetings or our writers group :)