Everyday for ten days, I’ll post a new tip for finding a writing class.
Number Six: Ask for References
This tip may not go down well with a lot of teachers, as tracking down references from past students can be time consuming. Not all teachers remain in close contact with former students (a very fair personal decision), and some well known authors who also teach may find it to be a bit of an insult; however, I believe that if you are paying for a class, you are paying for a service, and you have the right to all the information before paying for that service.
It is at this point that I will also add a caveat to this tip: use your common sense and be courteous. If you’re paying £/$20 for a one-day workshop, don’t bother with asking the teacher for a reference. This takes more time than it’s worth, and if the workshop turns out to be a dud, then all you’ve lost is the equivalent to a nice lunch. Also, if you’re going on a weekend retreat in which the tutors are well known authors and teachers, the bios are provided by the institution, and you’ve rung and asked about the course, then getting references is not only a bit redundant, it’s slightly rude as well. It’s saying, ‘I don’t trust this organisation’.
With this stated, there are times where asking a creative writing instructor for references is appropriate: those looking for private tuition, those looking at long term programmes, or when instructors are hired for specific events or to lead a new group. Then, most certainly, ask for references from previous students.
Personally, I still keep in contact with several of my former students and fellow-teachers, and I would always be happy to provide a reference. In fact, when I moved to Britain, I asked a few of my students to write a letter of support, and I took a copy with me. Teaching creative writing is no different than any other position, and it should be treated as such.
A good reference can give more than just ‘yes, he/she was a good teacher’ or ‘yes, I enjoyed the class.’ A past student can tell you what they got out of the class, what the atmosphere is like, or even if they’re still writing. This sort of information can help you not only decide if this teacher is the ‘one for you’, but also if a writing class is exactly what you need at the moment.
Tip Number One: Be Realistic
Tip Number Two: Stop Making Excuses
Tip Number Three: Research
Tip Number Four: Know What You Want
Tip Number Five: Help from Friends
Tip Number Seven: Pay What You Can Afford
Tip Number Eight: Don’t Change the Class
Tip Number Nine: Tradtional or Online Learning?
Tip Number Ten: Keep and Open Mind