To Teach or Not to Teach

by Laura Yeager

A good way to bring in extra money as a writer (or if you make enough money, to support yourself while you write) is to teach writing. I've been teaching for 25 years.

I'm not suggesting that everyone who writes can be a writing teacher. There are some basic requirements. 

First of all, for a writer to become a writing teacher, he must have a basic knowledge of writing. This includes knowing grammar backward and forward, knowing the elements of the genre of writing he’s trying to create, knowing what makes a piece good, and, of course, knowing how to get his work published. 

Then, he must have some substantial writing credits to his name. In other words, he must have proven to the world that his work is fine enough to be publishable in legitimate places.

The third thing that helps one land a teaching gig, be it paid or non-paid, is an undergraduate college degree in something. This proves to employers that you have an intellect and that you can "jump through hoops," that you can work to satisfy a goal. If you have an undergraduate degree in English or writing, all the better.

Now, to find a teaching job. Let’s start with unpaid teaching jobs. How does one find this kind of position? The answer is he creates his own teaching opportunity. My suggestion to writers who want to work as paid teachers is to first get experience by leading an unpaid writing group at a local bookstore or even in his own home.

Flash forward two years.

So let's say you've met all the teaching requirements and have run an unpaid writing group for a couple years. Now, you can look for a paid gig. (The following ideas for writing jobs are ordered from least-paying to highest-paying.) 

The trick to this is to start out small. First, check with your local park and recreation department. These organizations often hold classes on artistic things such as writing, painting and dancing. I also suggest that you check your community centers. These neighborhood centers also hold classes in artistic activities. You can also look for work at assisted living homes.

Now, at this level, you're not going to be making "really big bucks," but you will make something. These three places usually pay their teachers. 

The next level might be the "Elderhostel level." Actually, the new program name for Elderhostel, Inc. is "Exploritas." Elderhostels are schools, often held during the summers at colleges and universities around the county and the world, for senior citizens. You can locate Elderhostels (now Exploritas).

The next level is teaching writing at places such as Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and/or, which is affiliated with Writer’s Digest. Writing teachers at schools of this level do not have to have a graduate degree, but they all must have an undergraduate degree.

And if one likes teaching, he might decide to get a higher degree in writing or English. M.A.'s, M.F.A's and PhD.'s will allow the writer to more easily obtain a teaching job at perhaps the place where a writing teacher can make the most money–at a college or university. To find teaching jobs in colleges and universities, check out The Chronicle of Higher Education (for full-time gigs) and (for part-time gigs).

And if one wants to teach writing to children at the primary or secondary levels, the writer usually needs an education degree and certification. There are some exceptions to this. For instance, one can apply to Teach For America to teach in low-income schools in 35 regions across the country without a degree in Education. (To clarify, the applicant needs to have an undergraduate degree, but it does not have to be in Education.) See Teach for America for info. Also programs for gifted students may use teachers who don’t have state teaching certificates or Education degrees. Check with local gifted programs for available teaching jobs.

I'd like to conclude by discussing the pros and cons of teaching writing and talking about what makes a teacher "great." 

The pros are that the writer can really develop his own craft by becoming so tuned in to other writers’ writing processes and ideas. Another "pro" is, of course, that teaching can help pay the bills. And finally, teaching can be very fun and rewarding. 

Some of the "cons" are that teaching writing can "zap" your own creativity. You spend so much time looking at others' writing, that you have no creative juice for your own. Also, one can run up against a "bad class" full of whining "wannabes" with no talent. If this happens, all the better; you work though it. You try your hardest to impart some basic rules for how to create marvelous texts.

Now, what makes a teacher a great teacher? First of all, she must be sure to lay down some good ground rules and a consistent format for her classes. For instance, tell your students to start out their oral critiques of other’ work by stressing what’s working in the piece and then moving on to what’s not working. Another rule might be to never attack a fellow student personally. 

Secondly, she must enjoy teaching. For if she does not like to teach, it will show, and the class will become very dissatisfied. This can mean bad evaluations. 

Thirdly, she must be honest and be comfortable using herself and her own work as examples. 

Finally, she must believe that good writing can be taught. 

As I end, I'd like to say again that not every writer is cut out to teach. But teaching is something to explore if the writer has the desire. 

Good luck to you. You will need it. Teaching is not easy. In fact, some days it's the hardest job in the world. 


Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Fiction Writing: The Practical Guide

Janet Burroway’s Fiction Writing

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