Blank Slate


Twice a year I get a blank slate.

No I am not talking about New Year’s: to me that’s just a number. And no, I’m not even talking about writing another book. I often have those ideas already in mind, and so I am bound by my own arbitrary restrictions.

What I am talking about is teaching. Today was the first day of a new semester. Students come into the classroom big-eyed, nervous, sometimes cynical. And I come in somewhat nervous as well.

I’m close to completing my 17th year of teaching, and I still get nervous before I start the first class. I have this premonition that students will finally discover that I don’t know that much after all.

And that’s the harsh reality. The more education you get, the more you know in a very small area of knowledge. You become a big fish in a very, very small pond. That’s kind of the opposite of my dad: a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. He never finished high school, but when he got into the Coast Guard in World War II, he took any class he could get his hands on. It served him well.

Dad never had much time for teachers. He considered them (us) know-it-alls. Yes, there are some who expound on everything, thinking a PhD makes you an authority on the world. I know better. All it means is that you have figured out how to learn.

In my first class today, I reminded students that after more than 40 years of writing, I still consider myself a student, and that anyone serious about writing will always be looking to improve. That’s one of the great joys of writing; you never get bored. If you do, you’re in the wrong business.

I love teaching; it allows me to be creative in how I communicate truths to my students. I love writing for the same reason.

Day 2? I’m ready for you.

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