One of my jobs is teaching adults to write. This writing class began in the fall of 2009, after writing a proposal and getting approval from the recreation coordinator at the senior’s centre. The coordinator thought a writing class would be a good addition to the programming, and it has proven to be a popular class once it got started.
The first class began with seven students. I learned that I must be flexible, that adult retired people have busy lives, and I recognized the many sources of wisdom that I can draw on in our discussions.
My students write in response to prompts, questions and discussion topics, then they read their stories aloud, some of them sharing their writing for the first time ever. It’s a safe environment in which confidences are kept and stories too personal to share can be kept for the writer’s eyes alone. The thing is to write, and they have done so. I show them that I am a writer too, by doing most writing exercises along with them.
Many times my teaching plan gets shifted, along with the homework assignments. We have lively discussions on the English language, books, copyright, and grammar. I critique their writing, and we have a session in which they learn how to give helpful feedback. My experience in writing, editing and in Toastmasters have been most valuable and helpful in teaching this class.
I see retired professionals going from writing educational or professional articles to writing something personal, thus demanding a different style. I see the influence of their profession on their writing, in the language they use and their style. I see women who have nurtured their children to adulthood and now want to do something for themselves.
Among my students, there have been retired school and college teachers, psychologists, and homemakers, a nurse, someone who worked in banking and in college administration. There have been mothers of teenage children, a former vice-principal with a love of poetry, a reporter from a small town newspaper in the West, an eighty-one–year-old avid reader, and a young woman, perhaps just past her teenage years, who chose to be in this class instead of a class with her peers.
As adult learners, they’re coming because it’s their choice. They have stories to share with their families, and they want the writing to be worthy. Sometimes there’s a book in them and they’re trying to get started, or maybe they just want to try something different. Students have remarked that they’re not sure they can remember enough, while others have already written stories and want to make them better.
How can I help them? I show them their strengths and help them work on weaknesses in writing—as long as they’re open to correction. They are encouraged to keep on writing. For those struggling to remember, we work on ways to recall memories they thought they had forgotten. Students are often surprised when an event comes back to them and they start writing.
This term I teach two classes: one in creative writing that I’ve taught since the beginning; and a new class on writing memories—a full class at the first registration.
My goal is to teach my students to write those stories well with characters that are alive and vibrant, in scenes that the reader can visualize, and to go away from class having written something new each time. I hope my students will develop confidence in their writing and continue drawing out those stories even when the class is over.
When I see students smile because they’re happy to be in my class, and when their writing makes even the smallest improvement, I know that my teaching has been helpful.