Usually, my students come to Little Green College because they want to study science. None of them are English majors, since we don’t even have an English department. But they have to write for every class and share their writing with each other. I’m always asking them to move out of their comfort zone. I try to push them away from safe, formulaic ways of writing and encourage them to experiment, to play with language, to be ambitious.
And that means I have to push myself in those same ways.
This weekend I’ve been playing Twitter vs Zombies with my students. Most of them are eighteen years old. Most of them have been using computers since before they can remember. I, on the other hand, used a typewriter when I was in college and grad school. When it comes to digital proficiency, most of my students are way ahead of me. I don’t even own a smartphone.
So playing #TvsZ (that’s the hashtag that marks the game on twitter) means I’ve had to be willing to learn and make mistakes and stumble in front of my students. I’ve survived in the game so far by talking backchannel to a nineteen-year-old gamer who has shared strategy with me and given me smart tips for survival. Battling virtual zombies means learning to use the internet to communicate with people I’ve never met.
Then yesterday, smack in the middle of the #TvsZ game, I spent the day in the woods with first year students, an event that included a ropes or challenge course, in which we had to climb up into trees and dangle from ropes. I’m afraid of heights so when I climbed forty feet into the air, with only a rope holding me, I had a ridiculous amount of adrenaline in my veins. But the wonderful part is that my students helped me, cheering me on, holding my hands, giving tips as I climbed higher and higher.
Both the #TvsZ game and the ropes course fit into my teaching philosophy. What I want to do in the classroom is create an atmosphere for learning, a place where we aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, to talk about our struggles with writing, share our work with each other, give each other feedback, and learn from each other. Learning to write means experimenting, making mistakes and trying again, and writing ridiculous narratives about the post-apocalyptic zombie world just because it’s great fun to do so. I love the adrenaline that flows through my veins when I’m using #dodge to save myself from a zombie on twitter, when I’m swinging on a rope high above the ground, and when I’m typing words that appear on a computer screen.