If it's true, as Saul Bellow said, that writers are readers moved to emulation, then surely teachers are students moved by a similar compulsion. I shudder to think where I'd be without Charlie, or Blanche, or Nick, or Ms. Forbath. Not a day goes by I don't think of some teacher, and still I cannot recall with confidence a single thing that even my best instructors taught me, except, perhaps, how to be in the world.
Maybe that was the greatest service they performed. The most affecting teachers became models for a kind of process - this process of being an artist or scholar - that strange, beguiling process of becoming oneself. The most gifted teachers were persistence and passion come to life, teaching an extension of their devotion as they paid the bills. The distinction wasn't lost on us: our finest instructors might want to teach, but they needed to do their science or philosophy. We sniffed for this authenticity - it's what we gossiped about - certain classrooms like sources of light.
How could one not wish to emulate such a life?
And on my best days, I find no way to separate my life as a student from my life as a writer from my life as a teacher. I'm not sure one can teach anyone how to write, but I believe one can show someone how to love to write. I preach generosity and clarity, because I struggle to find such qualities in my own work. I want my students to bring out the best in me, just as I need them to coax what's best from their writing.