Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts About Another CTY Summer

  With my twenty-first summer at CTY about to begin, it is interesting to note that I will have a Teaching Assistant this year who was not even born the first time Laurie and I taught the class. In all those years, there has only been one TA who came back for a second year; she also came back for a third and a fourth and a fifth and eventually started teaching the other section of the class. In fact, this year will be the first that she is not with us.
   As for the rest, some of them went on to teach the class at other sites and some went on to teach other CTY courses. And some, well, I don't know where they went.

  Hundreds of boys and girls have sat in my classroom and written a myriad of poems, short stories, and essays. They've solved the mystery of the glowing green kids, designed packages for the Wonderful Weebil, and acted out radio plays starring a group of high school students living on Long Island in 1969.
  Some of these students had a flair for writing and a way with words. Some of the them had lots of ideas but couldn't figure out how to get them out of their heads and down on the paper. And a few of them were there only because their parents decided that their writing was horrible and they needed to make it better.

  What do the students take away? Each year, I tell my classes that I don't expect them to be able to write a best-selling novel or an Oscar-winning screenplay at the end of the three weeks. We experiment with all types of writing and all I ask is that they do their best with each assignment.  I am hopeful that they all leave with some skill they didn't have when they arrived. One lad answered the question about the most important thing he learned by simply saying, "You must try."

   I also start each session by telling them that writing is not a punishment or a waste of time, despite how some teachers might make it seem. I had a math teacher in high school who assigned, as homework over the Christmas vacation, a report on non-Euclidean geometry. It had to be ten or more typewritten pages. He did this every year, apparently. But he never graded them and never gave them back; we doubted that he even read them. Why, then, give such an assignment? Did he have a grudge against the English and Social Studies teachers, whose job it was to give us writing assignments? Surely, no English teacher ever assigned 1,000 math calculations as vacation homework.
   Yes, they will have to write reports and those dreaded five-paragraph essays throughout their educational careers. but if they start out with a positive attitude about writing, they'll do much better jobs.

   The first class arrives in ten days. And we begin anew...

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