The Spirit of Teaching By Mackenzie Leavitt

posted Sep 22, 2016, 4:19 PM by Writing Center   [ updated Sep 29, 2016, 3:39 PM ]
Hello everyone!

My name is Mackenzie Leavitt and I am an undergraduate writing consultant at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I am grateful for the opportunity to express my opinions and views in this forum. I hope to share some helpful insights, whether you are a teacher, a student, or at all curious about writing.

A topic which often gets very little attention in the discussion of teaching or tutoring is the spirit or feeling that a teacher brings to a teaching situation. This is understandable, of course, for the spirit that one brings to any situation is intuitively understood. It is not rationally apprehended and it certainly cannot be taught by any formal method. Nonetheless, we know that the feeling which one brings to a teaching situation is incredibly important to make the most progress, especially in a creative art like writing. One cannot simply force the art of creativity to occur, no more than one can force the eyes to see better by scrunching the muscles around them.

This is my second semester working as a consultant in the Writing Center. In working with a diverse set of students, I have learned that the spirit which one brings to a teaching situation is what truly makes the difference between a great consultation and an average consultation. Most of this lesson was learned through a process of mistakes. I hope to share some important observations that will help better guide the spirit we bring to teaching situations.

Maya Angelou once wrote, “People will not remember us for what we said and did. People will remember us for the way we made them feel.”  Before working with anyone, one should consider what attitude and what spirit one wishes to approach that work with. If we carefully reflect on this and remain mindful of it, we can bring whatever spirit we need to for a particular student at a particular moment. Obviously, every student has a unique set of needs. Every teaching situation should be adjusted to meet the demands of that student and not any preconceived notion of what must be done in a consultation.

There are two important aspects of writing that I think should be heavily emphasized in terms of the presence we bring to a consultation: creativity and attention to detail. Writing is not a mechanistic process; it is a process of flow, of dance, and of movement. In helping students, we should bring that feeling to our sessions. Many students treat writing this way, as though it were simply a matter that could be fixed by a tutor’s ink pen, as though there were only one right phrase to express a particular point of view, but writing is not like this. Thus, when students inquire about certain phrases or ask how to say certain things, we should be careful not to mechanize their understanding of the process. Be willing to go whatever direction the consultation takes you. Be willing to flow like the current of rushing water across a stream bed. It is this feeling of flow and spontaneity which sets apart a teacher who simply tells a student what to do from a teacher who shows a student what to do.

Furthermore, to continue with this analogy of water- when water runs over an area of land, it covers the whole area. It does not neglect any aspect of the land which it flows across.  Similarly, when we teach, we should teach with strict attention to detail. We should also help students to develop this same attention. No word should exist in a written composition without an explicit or implicit purpose. When we sincerely pay attention to students in consultations, when we genuinely care about the content of their writing, and when we show them the kindness and respect we would show any friend or family member, we demonstrate the kind of spirit that makes great teachers and even better writers.

All of this may seem very abstract, but it is the most real and vital aspect of any teaching situation. It is the feeling that we bring to students- that we care and that we are willing to be present for them. If we can be present for students here and now, we teach them to be present for their writing here and now. It is presence more than anything else that gives rise to better writing and better understanding. I guess all this really boils down to is letting students know that you are there for them in your own way- whether that means adjusting your style of communication,  unwavering attention to syntax, spending a whole consultation on one thesis statement, or simply being kind.

I hope that everyone that reads this post can apply these ideas to any situation in working with other people. In my view, we live in a world which desperately needs people who are sincerely present- which is of course more than simply being there. I wish everyone a fulfilling semester. We hope to see you visit us in The Writing Center!