Last night at the Hendrix show, I was interrupted from my writing instruction reverie by an anomaly in the performance. There's a late-thirties-early-forties guy who's in charge of all the teen musicians. With John Lennon glasses and a haircut somewhere in between Peter Frampton and Robert Plant, his gushy emcee-ing officiously moves the show along. The kids seem to like him, though, and that's a good sign. Anyway, toward the end of the show, they were setting up to play Red House, and this guy jumps on stage with his guitar. He played lead on the whole song, solos and all, and of course he showed the kids up. I found myself kind of annoyed.
You won't be surprised that it made me think about teaching writing. There is a school of thought that holds that a teacher of writing must also be a writer. The theory is that only someone who is committed to the discipline of writing can effectively teach others, since it is personal experience and practice that gives us the insight necessary to help other writers.
In the spirit of this philosophy, I try to work alongside my students, and occasionally, I do bring my writing to read with them. I have learned to be careful with what I share. If my piece seems way beyond what they can do, it can be de-motivating to them. As an adult, sometimes it's hard to write authentic pieces that are also not too far out of the reach of a sixth grader, but I have to do my best.
So it was from this perspective that I examined my irritation at the guy on the stage. I respected his identity as fellow-musician to his students, but I wondered what his objective was in making the choice to play. How did his performance help his students? Where do we draw the line between modeling and self-indulgence? Towards the end of the number, I looked out at the audience from my table on the side of the stage, and I noticed that all the kids who had been dancing and cheering each other on had wandered off. It was clear to me then, that as always, there's one way that any teacher can tell if you're on the right track: the kids are there with you.