2016, Archives, February 2016, The MFA Years

Semester Four: Teaching

Semester Four. Wow. How did that happen? Feels like just yesterday I was waiting patiently for my applications to be processed and find out where I might be accepted. And here it is, my last semester of courses.

One of the things that drew me to Stony Brook is that they encourage everyone to take classes outside of their comfort zone. This seemed important going into the process and now, as I am nearing the end, I am absolutely convinced that this structure has made me a more rounded writer, critic and thinker.

For me, this semester, that means Flash Fiction/Prose Poetry. I’ve never had a poetry class (I generally write creative nonfiction) although I have done some fiction. So far, I’m learning a huge amount. Of course when your base point is zero, it can only go up!

I am also now working on my thesis in a structured way with regular deadlines with my adviser. I’ve been working on it for years–the project is what got me into this MFA mindset in the first place–but I finally now feel like I’m putting it into something that makes sense, has a shape and might actually hold together. And so, for this, as well, the MFA is definitely paying off.

My third class, however, is the most surprising and delightful, because I am at the front of the classroom as instructor.

I’m co-teaching a World Literature and so I may have the best ever first academic teaching experience known to MFAkind. Technically, I am the Teaching Assistant (TA) to the TA–also a grad student at Stony Brook–and I got the gig because the enrollment hit 40. She is a friend and also a brilliant writer and fantastic teacher. I am pretty sure I’m learning as much from her as our students are from us.

Basically, we start the class together and then split in half for an hour or so, then come back together for the last hour and wrap-up. So I am, indeed, running my half of the class and I am very much enjoying it. I have decades of experience as a facilitator and trainer, although in a very different setting. What this means is that I am already comfortable in front of a group of people and, for that, I am grateful.

The surprising part is that I’m understanding just how much I have learned over these past three semesters and I realize that I actually do have something to offer as an instructor. This is an amazing feeling. I wasn’t sure I would feel so confident with the content, but I do.

In February 2014, I would not have been able to even visualize myself in front of this group of undergrads teaching anything, let alone world literature, and yet, here I am. And loving it and certain that not only can I do this in future on my own, I would very much like to.

I will say, however, that teaching requires an incredible amount of time. Honestly, this course takes up more time than my own courses, so if teaching is in your plan, keep that in mind. I’m sure it gets easier as you teach more classes, but even for the best of the best, I’m certain that it is a time consuming profession. And poorly paid, but that is not news. That said, totally worth it.

Once this semester ends, I will have two thesis credits left which I will use in the fall. Those will be to keep me enrolled for the graduation (read: paperwork) process of getting my thesis approved, as well as allow me to apply to teach again as a TA so I have more experience under my belt and on my résumé.

In a perfect world, I would love to have drawn this degree out longer. I would have liked to have had less classes each semester–so maybe to go part-time vs. full-time–because I feel a bit that it has all been rushed and I didn’t get to savor everything, but I still have no regrets. I am learning more than I ever would have imagined possible and have gained an entire new skill set, as well.

In the real world, I have financial responsibilities and people who count on me so taking two and a half years for this degree has already been a privilege and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

So, if you’re waiting for your applications to go through and are contemplating the MFA experience, be sure to give yourself the chance to really enjoy it as best you can. Doing a degree like this is absolutely a luxury so savor every moment of it!

May it serve you well.

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