Alysha Kaye on Teaching and Writing: Taking My Own Advice


Alysha Kaye  The Waiting Room

 Alysha Kaye was born in San Marcos, Texas, where she also earned her BA in Creative Writing from Texas State University. She worked in marketing for a brief and terrible cubicle-soul-sucking time until she was accepted into Teach for America and promptly moved to Oahu. She taught 7th grade English in Aiea for two years and also earned a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Hawaii. She now teaches in Austin and tries to squeeze in as much writing as possible between lesson planning. She dreamed about “The Waiting Room” and that became her first novel, which was recently published. 

Yes, I am crazy enough to try to teach writing at same time as trying to BE a writer. It’s not always the best of times…but luckily, I’m not in this boat alone. I’ve connected with so many other (usually English) teachers who have published, are working on publishing, or who dream of being published one day. It definitely makes me feel less crazy.

As much as I complain about my squirrelly teenage students, they do so much for my writing career! First and foremost, they keep me in check: they never let me take myself too seriously. In article I wrote for the San Francisco Book Review, I explained that my students, “will never allow me to take myself too seriously and thank goodness for that. No one likes that pretentious-never-smiling writer who goes around constantly sighing about how their agent and editor just “don’t see eye to eye.” Oh please. I make a living telling kids to capitalize and spit out their gum. I write on the side. I get two sad paychecks a month, break up two fights a year, and hand out maybe two stickers a day. I write on the side.

I think every author out there truly needs someone (or hundreds of mini-someones) to keep them humble. I’m sure even J.K. Rowling has a bubble-burster. Probably someone who gloats to her about Avatar doubling the sales of every Harry Potter film. But seriously, where would we be without these parade-rainers? While you may not be walking around the halls of your employment wearing dry erase marker streaks on your white dress, I encourage you to find your own path to absurdity. If your life isn’t a joke, you’re not a writer.”

My kids are also super inspiring…every day, I’m surrounded by hundreds of artists—artists who haven’t reached that point in their life where they question everything they do—they’re still just…doing. Drawing, painting, singing, rapping, writing, sculpting, building, sketching, playing…you name it, my students exceed at it. If you’re ever feeling lost, muse-less, I encourage you to hang out with kids for a day, or even an hour. The things that come out of their mouths! They have no filters, no shame, no inhibition—it’s beautiful and hilarious and scary.

However, I realized recently that I am SO much harder on my students than I am on myself. I think it’s because I love them…a lot! And I want the very, very best for them, obviously. So I push them and I question them and I expect so much out of them and I let them know when they can do better.

I think this is how most teachers are…but the thing is, am I taking my own advice? I’ll tsk-tsk a student for not utilizing an outline and a rough draft before turning in a final and then I’ll turn around and do the exact same thing with my writing. I’ll judge a student’s poetry formatting—questioning their lack of punctuation or placing of words…and then realize that my poetry notebook is filled with I-don’t-care-about-formatting poetry. I force students to peer-edit even though I personally would hate for my peers to edit my work before I’m completely happy with it.

As a writing teacher, there are countless strategies that I introduce to my kiddos—from graphic organizers to practice tense changes to helpful sentence stems. It’s actually quite ironic. I have books upon books upon books all about How To Teach Writing, and worksheets, packets, and spirals full of notes from professional development courses on the same subject. Geez, I even got my Masters in Secondary English Education…I wrote a thesis about teaching writing…and yet. Yet, HELL NO, I don’t use all of those strategies when I’m working on my own writing.

I have to give them as many ideas and options as I know of, because they’re all so different—of course they’re not all going to have the same writing process—and they’re definitely not going to have MY writing process. I literally open up a Word doc or my aged, fading pink notebook and release a furious jumble of words. I prep/plan/outline 0% of the time and I edit maybe 15% of the time. I like fragments. I like cussing. And I like starting sentences with “And.” If I taught my students to write like me, I’d get fired.

I could go on and on. The point is, teaching helps me with my writing more than I can even explain—and not for the obvious reasons. Not because of my endless resources on outlining, but because of the latest hashtags and slang words my students have taught me (if you don’t know what a thottie is, or #AlexFromTarget, then you need some teens in your life, stat). Not because of the countless pieces of literature I have about drafting and editing, but because of the grit and humor and innocence and pain their lives have given some of my characters’ lives.

My goal is to keep writing, keep teaching, and keep trying to be better at both! Who knows, maybe one day I’ll even take my own advice.

You can contact Alysha Kaye or learn more about her teaching and writing at these links:

www.alyshakaye.com

@alyshakaye7

www.alyshakaye.wordpress.com

Amazon

Goodreads

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