Mike Haeflinger (English PTL) has taught the course “Teaching Creative Writing in Public Schools,” for the past three years, and he remembers the comments of a particular student facing the first day of classroom teaching required by the course: the student was a former member of the military and in that role routinely gave presentations to high-ranking officers, but he reported feeling more nervous to face a room of ten year olds than he did to address military commanders. Similar experiences of nervousness are typical for many who take Haeflinger’s course. Many Rutgers-Camden students who have ambitions to teach after graduation take Haeflinger’s course and have their first classroom experience teaching creative writing in Camden’s public schools.
Since he recognizes many of his students will be taking on the responsibility of teaching for the first time, Haeflinger scaffolds the class to lead first time teachers into the public school classroom. The first six weeks of the course are devoted to preparing his students for the challenges they will face; he focuses on practical teaching tips and he gives specific techniques for teaching creative writing that work in the context of an elementary or high school classroom. For example, his students must write out a minute by minute timeline of their writing exercises so they get a sense of how to structure their time in the classroom. He also gets his students into conversation about their teaching fears by asking them to talk and write about concerns. Finally, before he sends students into the schools, he brings elementary students onto the Rutgers campus and models a creative writing workshop with them for his Rutgers-Camden students.
The final eight weeks of the semester are spent in public school classrooms, with inexperienced teachers paired with someone who has taught before. The payoff for Rutgers-Camden students is enormous: they’re able to gradually, over the course of the semester, prepare to stand in front of a classroom, many of them for the first time. This builds confidence as they move toward their first student-teaching assignments required for state certification. Haeflinger also hopes that the course will serve as an introduction for his students to the city of Camden; many students commute to Rutgers-Camden for years without acknowledging the city they are driving through. To correct this, he is creating opportunities for further engagement with the Camden community by giving Rutgers-Camden students the chance to participate in a spring poetry slam for Camden school students and to assist on a newspaper run entirely by high school students from the city of Camden.