Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Twelve years of teaching on

In 1997, my husband, son, and I moved with all our belongings, and Peppercorn our bad-tempered old cat, to New Mexico. That was when I started offering classes on writing for children through, first using listservs and then over time through Nicenet's Internet Classroom Assistant. Mark Dahlby, who runs with patience, calm and incredible goodwill, allowed me to try out an introductory class, an advanced workshop, a class on writing picture book text. In effect, he said, I trust you. Do what you think will work. A terrifying thought.

Twelve years later, I can say in honesty that every little scrap that I know about teaching writing, I learned in that virtual classroom from my students.

Since last year, I've been working on a transition plan. I'm stepping away from that online teaching, only because I don't have enough hours in the day to teach at Vermont College, visit schools, and--oh yes I do need to keep writing. I'm leaving my online classes in the capable hands of two fine writers and VC graduates. We set up an internship process where they'd hang out in my class for a session or two, figure out how I do things, decide what will work for them, and find their own balance.

I'm thrilled to announce that Debby Edwardson has just completed the first 8-week session of First Steps for beginning writers who want to write for young readers. Sarah Aronson and I are just concluding a 10-week session of the Manuscript Workshop, filled with amazing work in progress ranging from picture books to novels, rich with conversation about craft, and replete with discovery about how stories come to be. And yes, Sarah is the human alarm clock in this post from Through the Tollbooth. In these classes, we have opened doors, arrived at insights, and celebrated successes including agent signings, contracts, publication, and more. Thank you to everyone who made this journey possible for me. It's my delight to pass the love on.


  1. What a pleasure it's been to work with you, for twelve years. (Twelve years!) You're a wonderful teacher and a wonderful human being - your students have been fortunate to work with you, as have I. Please come back and teach masters' classes with whenever you have the time and interest.

  2. Uma,
    You have been a wonderful mentor for so many of us who have taken your classes. Thank you.

  3. Uma, you truly are a "teacher extraordinaire." You are passionate about the craft, you are patient, but firm, and most of all, you are incredibly generous. I have learned so much with you. Not only that, but in spreading your love and knowledge, you also managed to create a community around you. Thank you for being a beacon of light for so many of us, in this arduous, but rewarding journey.

  4. What footsteps to follow, Uma!

    Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Our first class was wonderful--working with other writers, whether colleagues or students, is always a process of discovery that both informs and invigorates one's own work.

    I am very grateful to be a part of the children's writing community. Over the years many talented writers have taught me so much with such generosity that I always look to pay it forward to others.

  5. Uma,
    Just wanted to thank you again for everything! You are an incredible teacher, and you will be missed dearly. Best wishes to you!

  6. Hi Uma,

    I feel so brilliantly lucky to have heard about your class just in the nick of time. I have so loved, loved taking your manuscript workshop class, and have emerged a better writer and greatly enriched by the community of writers and our dialogues.

    You will be missed, but I've also got your voice in my head guiding me towards more good ink!

    Thank you for your passionate and dedicated teaching and your wonderful way of growing writers' strengths.



  7. Thank you all for expressing these beautiful sentiments.

  8. Uma,

    Not long ago in Africa I spent an amazing interlude with a wild elephant. He had broken one of his tusks, but it was smooth and polished by his continuing to use it.

    You may have begun writing with a broken tusk, Uma, but how you've polished it to gleaming over the years! I treasure the time I've been fortunate enough to work with you.


  9. Elephants truly hold a mythic quality, don't they? And thank you Stephanie for your kind words. I'm fortunate too in the writing family we've managed to create.

  10. Hi Uma,

    I just found your post today (I'm a little behind in my blog reading!) and wanted to pop in and say how honored I am to have had the opportunity to learn from you. Your classes have been such a wonderful, caring, environment full of honest conversation among writers all striving to improve our craft. As you said, triumphs and discouragement have been shared among a loving group. Your insights and talent have pointed us in the right direction while always allowing us to find our own words to pave the path.

    I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to know you and wish you all the best as you move forward in your career. You will be missed as a teacher but you will always be our friend!!

    Karen / Kiki