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Bender, Jeff

Jeff Bender
  • Departments:Community & Continuing Education Instructor

I like the creativity in teaching. I've worked with a lot of great teachers and I really respect those who don't say a lot but who have their students talking, working, and interacting. I learned a lot from reading the book What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain. He says something like "We don't learn anything we don't teach ourselves." The teacher's job, I think, is to create an environment in which students can do that -- teach themselves. This requires motivated and participatory students -- and a teacher willing to cede some control.

I attended Davidson College, where my biggest accomplishment was probably captaining an ailing Division-I wrestling team. I also made the best choice I could have made there, which was majoring in English. A lot of colleges have great English departments. Davidson is one of them. More than anything, the department was for me. I found the teachers challenging and interesting. I got to read old stuff but also new and exciting contemporary plays, religious texts, and historical texts. The teachers at Davidson were hooked, and it was easy to be hooked with them. From there I taught two years at my old high school before moving to New York and attending Columbia's School of the Arts. It was as dreamy as it probably sounds. I got to work with more great teachers -- Sam Lipsyte, Amy Hempel, Mark O'Donnell -- who cared about our development, about us, and about writing. Ever since Columbia I've been writing and teaching. I got to attend the Edward F. Albee Foundation and hang out a bit with Albee himself, who gave me some very good advice. I took a great class with Walter Kirn at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, with James Rahn at Rittenhouse Writers Group in Philadelphia, and with Peter Orner recently at Richard Hugo House in Seattle. I've been lucky to have such good teachers.

I pretty much use my free time during the day to write, read, run, and lift weights. I'm not a very big guy anymore, but I enjoy the ritual. I enjoy tennis but don't play as often as I'd like -- unless my father-in-law is in town. Any free time at night I devote to my wife, who is the funniest and most fun person.

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