I just got back from a road trip in which I attended two Midwestern writers conferences and spoke to writing students at Taylor University. So I might think that I'd taught for nine hours, not counting my 36 one-on-one appointments.
But a statement a woman made during one of those appointments—added to what I told the students at Taylor—reminds me that as writing professionals, our teaching is not nearly so limited.
During our appointment time this past weekend in Kansas City, a woman thanked me for something I'd taught her years ago during a conference in Glorieta, New Mexico. I didn't remember her, so I asked what she had learned.
Turns out the big lesson she gained from me didn't come in a class—or even directly pertain to writing. In those years the Glorieta conference was directed by an especially Type-A individual. The schedule was packed with sessions from breakfast until ten at night.
But not for me. Knowing I needed time to reflect and to unwind, I'd excused myself from attending not only the night owl workshops, but also the evening general session. While I could be there in body, I knew my mind and spirit were not up to participating.
So I found a comfy chair in the lobby of the residence hall and gave myself permission to sprawl—despite the risk of conferees seeing me and my faculty name tag.
This past weekend I was reminded that a Glorieta conferee had asked me if I was okay. I'd told her my brain was full and I'd given myself permission to take the evening off. Nearly a decade later, she said that brief encounter proved one of the most valuable lessons she learned at that conference—and that it had shaped her attitude toward every one she'd attended since.
And I thought I was done with teaching for the day.
As I spoke to students in the professional writing program at Taylor University, I emphasized that everything they do affects their professional reputation. Do they meet their deadlines, fulfill their assignments, and consistently deliver quality work? Editors remember that.
Can they say, like Dr. Seuss's elephant Horton, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant”? Any time you interact with a colleague, you teach them something—often about you. In the writing business, we keep encountering the same people. My current boss for much of my freelance editing work was once part of my editorial staff at Moody magazine. These days I appreciate what I'm learning from her, and I hope she can say the same. After all, you never know what—or when—you're teaching.