So, what would I add to Niles’ list?
1. Teachers who read their students work.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but one might be suspicious of teachers who always want their students to read their work out loud to them. It might be a sign they don’t want to do too much reading beforehand, preferring the “off the cuff” method of verbal critique that not coincidentally significantly reduces their paper load and/or workload outside of class.
I’m not exaggerating about this, folks. I’ve been in sessions with teachers bluffing their way through a student’s work; occasionally it was even my own.
To wit, I once read a lengthy tribute to the beloved George Garrett in which the admirer fondly recalled listening to Garrett hold forth about a student’s work even when, well, ahem. . . uh, it became clear that Garrett hadn’t actually read it.
Apparently, it was enough just to be in the legendary writer’s presence.
Garrett’s volume of work and service to the field is also legendary and I have no intention of dimming the light that shines upon it. But it doesn’t make not reading a student’s work and then critiquing it as part of one’s employment responsibilities any more acceptable, especially when one considers that Garrett himself was an enormous influence, as a teacher, on other teachers of creative writing.
2. Programs that promote practice and purpose, not personality. Along with the star system, the cult of personality has a tendency to reign supreme in MFA programs. See #1.
I could write much more about this subject, and have, actually, here on this blog and elsewhere, but some of this is going to be in my book, currently titled Rethinking Creative Writing in Higher Education: Programs and Practices that Work. I don’t want to give it all away. Buying cows and free milk and all that.