Saturday, April 01, 2006

To Teach or Not to Teach

Heartburn in Hoboken writes:

I'm trying to decide between the fiction programs at Michigan and Johns Hopkins. Both schools offered me full financial support and a fellowship. At Michigan I don't have to teach the first year, but at Hopkins I have to start teaching (not TA-ing) immediately. I have no teaching experience.

My questions:
--Would teaching seriously detract from my writing time?
--How much importance should you give teaching responsibilities in choosing an MFA program?

HiH, I think it's important to get some teaching experience at some point in your graduate experience. But there's plenty to be said for having additional time. Teaching one class will take up 20-30 hours a week. It gets easier the more you do it.

Look, I talk all about the plusses and minuses of this in the book, but the bottom line is: You either want to teach or you don't. If you want to spend that first year without teaching (and I get the impression that you do), go for it. I think that's a good idea actually.

You won't go wrong with either program. If I had to man-fact, I'd choose Michigan in a photo finish.


Anonymous said...

FWIW, the people I know in MFA programs who only had to teach one year greatly prefered that. They really liked having one year to devote entirely to writing. And its better to have that be your first year where you are getting used to the groove of things anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hey, for a tough choice I'd be hard pressed to find a more fortunate one than having to choose between Hopkins and Michigan!

Here's my take on it though:

As far as undergraduate institutions go, Hopkins is unarguably the more prestigious of the two. And don't forget, undergraduates are the ones you will be teaching. At Hopkins, you're going to get the chance to teach a group of motivated and intelligent students. That's something many professors can only dream about.

Secondly, as much as we'd all hope to be able to write, and only write, after an MFA it's not likely to happen. At least it won't happen soon.

The practical argument is this: you're going to have to teach to support yourself in the future. Well, at least until you write that Great American Novel after which you will of course dine exclusively on caviar and take baths in champagne!

If I had the choice, I would choose Hopkins. If for no other reason than getting the chance to teach truly motivated students. Sure, you'll have bright students at Michigan too, but you're also going to have some undergrads who only show up in hopes of an easy "A." I just think there are very few public schools that can measure up to an exclusive private school in that regard.

Good luck wherever you choose to go though, and congratulations!

Anonymous said...

You may also want to consider whether you'd be teaching introductory composition or creative writing. At JHU, you'd be teaching creative writing; at Michigan, you'd be teaching composition or creative writing. I'd assume it's a competitive application process for your second year at Michigan, since most students want to teach creative writing.

Anonymous said...

For me, not having to teach both years and having a year to concentrate entirely on writing would be a big advantage.

On that level I'd pick Michigan over JHU easily.

Anonymous said...

At Michigan you're guaranteed to teach creative writing once and comp once--which professionally is probably better than teaching all creative writing. You'll actually have two classes on your CV.
Plus Michigan is a public ivy. I've taught at Michigan. Michigan students are tough and gifted. And more writers have come out of Michigan's undergrad than JHU. Who would you rather teach, a future Arthur Miller, Mary Gaitskill, or Susan Orlean (to name just a few UM alumni) or (ick) a future John Barth?
Either choice you'll be fine. But teaching does take valuable writing time. And I wouldn't let the second commenters silly public vs. private thing get in your way. After all, while JHU is ranked #13 overall as a university by US News, Michigan is ranked #25. Not much difference.

Anonymous said...

For some reason my comment isn't showing, though it appears on the side when you go to make a comment.
Basically, if you're thinking only of future students, JHU has little over Michigan. Especially as Michigan is known for its undergraduate creative writing programs.

Anonymous said...

Looks like consensus on Michigan over JHU here.

You are getting teaching experience in both places, so the question is if you want to have a year just to write or two years of teaching.

Same funding with less work seems like the obvious choice to me.

Dillon said...

I don't have a lot of experience in this area - but I have taken a few creativing writing classes at U of M (and comp classes). Tough and gifted is a solid description, very few of us are looking for an "easy A." And I can tell you that my instructors were appreciated and seen as role-models. MFA students are treated very well here and the campus is amazing. I'm rooting for Michigan. But if you pick Hopkins, at least spend a summer in Ann Arbor.

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