by Saffron Sener
Every Tuesday for an hour, I teach a Creative Writing course to second-graders at a nearby elementary school. Sometimes equally, I eagerly await and dread this class. Eagerness is inherent; being able to provide a creative outlet for these students as well as the general fun of planning, preparing, and actually teaching makes my experience an enjoyable one.
The dread, however, stems not from the students or anything about the school or program I teach through (C.R.E.A.T.E.). Rather, it’s born from my own anxiety and apprehension to lead a group of fifteen-plus seven and eight year olds in everyone’s favorite subject: writing.
I began writing creatively when I was in second grade (what a parallel!), but as I was on the younger side, I was about six then. It was something I did for fun, and it was “my” thing; I “wrote” a “book” (100+ pages of elementary-level text very heavily influenced by Sharkboy and Lavagirl) that same year. For me, writing was my path of least resistance; I struggled with math, with grammar, but stories and poems just flowed. This isn’t to say I’m perfect in my writing, or that it’s any better than anyone else’s - rather, I just found it easy and enjoyable to do.
This is not universal. Leaving elementary school and entering middle and high school, when writing assignments shifted from fiction to essays and from fun to thoughtful, I began to understand the qualms. The fear of putting pen to paper. The nuances of sentence structure, the need for variance, the consideration given to avoiding word repetition. The panic at a prompt, and being told “no, no, no!” when it doesn’t quite match. The suppression of that creativity I and my peers so fortunately developed in elementary.
It grew more potent in high school, when in A.P. and I.B. classes required the churning out of thousands of words every day. “Furthermore,” “for example,” “as shown by,” grew almost as reflexive as including my name at the top, followed by the teacher, class, and date (ah, M.L.A., how I don’t miss you so). Writing words became excruciating at times, especially during timed writes. Fiction - what’s that? I penned a handful of poems/stories in comparison to the hundreds of essays.
To get to the point, though, I will address my second-graders. Hopefully, someday far in the future, they’ll stumble upon this blog post and be brought to the six-ish week class they were a part of now.
Do not let the crushing weight of academia strip you of your creativity. In my time as your teacher, I have watched each and every one of you step (slowly, at times) out of your shell and each step is more rewarding than most else in my week. Writing is hard. That is a fact. You’ve told me that, when I ask you to write a haiku or about a character in your story. I know that. But in your excitement to share with the class, to take projects home to keep working, to continue having the class despite the school year coming to an end, I see a change - that difficulty is not necessarily a deterrent, anymore.
Your poems, stories, songs, and everything else are manifestations of your incredible imagination and in the coming years as a student there will be times where that is threatened. School curriculums are capitalistic constructions rooted in getting the “best” product possible to create a facade of success that in turn funds the institution. The better the school averages, the more money they receive. Challenge that cycle. Be creative. Don’t let the constant wave of essays and requirements dull your drive to write creatively as well, like I did. For a long, long time, I wrote very little beyond that which was asked of me in classes. I’m only now, in my second year of college, falling back into what I love so much. Don’t get lost like I did.