The Problem with Showing Students My Writing

I’m in the last few weeks of teaching my non-fiction class, and I can say with some certainty that these students know more about me than I ever want another group to know. Right at the beginning of the semester, I realized I’d be asking these students to write about some stuff that might end up getting pretty personal. Shortly after, I realized I’d both have to provide examples of the essays I wanted them to write, and I’d also have to do something to make them comfortable with sharing some of their lives with an entire class of total strangers. Naturally, I decided I’d be the first one to share.

I’ve written a lot of weird stuff in the last few years, and a good portion of it found its way here. Two pieces in particular stood out to me as being somewhat relevant to the class and also like a terrible idea to share. They were the posts about my brief tenure as a terrible bouncer and about my fear of chainsaws. I turned the bouncer one into a spoken story because that’s what my students were working on at the time. That wasn’t too bad, but I think my students actually thought I was something of a tough person after hearing about that. I don’t think I adequately communicated just how terrible of a bouncer I was. The second story, which is here, had a different effect.

I don’t know why I thought sharing it was a good idea.

I used the little post about how scared I am of chainsaws as one of three examples of different kinds of non-fiction writing. I wanted my students to know they didn’t have to be constrained by their image of the stern, morose Author who writes the pain of their heart into the page. So I gave them my weird, jokey thing about being scared of chainsaw evisceration. I had the foresight not to attach my name to it because I didn’t want what they thought of me to influence how they read the text.

Students read three non-fiction articles while in groups of three, each student got an article, and I could tell which person in each group got mine. The first group I checked in with had some nice comments about each essay. They mentioned they liked how one author played with tone and didn’t get too excessive with the descriptive language. The next group was different. The first student I asked about the article I secretly wrote said without any hesitation while staring directly into my soul “This author is clearly a psychopath.”

I said the only thing I could think of to keep the conversation moving: “Oh?”

They continued their observation by saying they liked the strange metaphors and might try something like that in their own writing, but they finished by once again saying “But they really seem like a psychopath.”

I said “yeah, I think so too,” and checked in with the next group.

This came up when I searched “psychopath” in the stock photo website I use, and I’m just rolling with it

I have been a little more careful with what writing of mine I give to my students now. They still joke about me “bouncing” students from our class, and I haven’t exactly done much to dissuade those comments. I think it also got out that I wrote the chainsaw article because any time I give out sample essays, there are some strange, suspicious giggles that slip around the room.

Do words!

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