Notes from Parents and Students

John Canaday's teaching transitioned with my daughterís evolving needs, from math tutoring to curricular enrichment to college counseling. Not only did my daughter gain confidence in her own abilities so that she was able to move gracefully and successfully into AP math classes; from her first meeting with John, she was swept away by his passion for learning and his unusual ability to convey and translate knowledge from one discipline to another. John's infectious excitement and his clarity of intelligence combine with an acute understanding and respect for an adolescent studentís individuality to make him a rare and gifted teacher.

—Parent of a high school student

Hi John. I just have to let you know something. The way you are helping my wife is so fantastic. Youíre a life saver right now, because as you know she is having a hard time. I mean you are just a total pro. At the moment you are keeping her going, and I canít thank you enough for everything. Itís just terrific.

—Husband of a Harvard student who was switching fields mid-career and going back to school for a Masterís degree.

When youíre a parent and trying to find someone to help your children with skills you donít necessarily possess, itís often hard to make a judgment, based on limited evidence, as to just who might be the best tutor. We make an act of faith and cross our fingers.

I made such a leap by picking John Canaday (although he did come very highly recommended) to tutor my two children for a combined total of 14 years. My son started in 4th grade and stayed with John until graduation from high school, while my daughter started in sixth grade and continued until her graduation. It was the best educational decision I ever made for my kids, and they would agree.

Although we lived in Brookline, they loved traveling to Arlington to see John. John is an absolutely superb teacher, but best of all, heís an even better human being. My children revered him and looked forward to their Tuesday time with him as their favorite part of the week. Not only did he successfully build their skills in both math and English, he taught them to think critically, and he became a friend and advocate for all of us.

I loved picking them up from their sessions with John, because the mood in the car was always happy and relaxed. He even did college counseling for my children, and they both got into their first choice of college.

If I had grandchildren, I would sign them up at birth for a slot with John. He is the absolute best at what he does. He changed our lives for the better, and we are still enjoying the fruits of our time with John.

—Parent of two high school students

Our son received a solid A in his Honors Pre-Calc this past quarter--all A's for the quarter, in fact, but that one was hard earned given his troubles at the beginning of the year. Thank you so much for giving him the confidence and tools to succeed! These years are so tricky and we are grateful for your steady hand.

—Parents of a high school junior

My sonís meetings with John are crucial for him, giving an opportunity for individualized discussion, which can't happen in a large public high school. Each time I pick him up after a session, he and I always have a meaty discussion in the car about the ideas that came up during his time with John.

—Parent of a high school junior

Having worked with Dr. John for the past year, I can confidently say that he helped me obtain measurable improvement in my performance in school. What's more, John ensured that my learning did not stop in the classroom. He has taught me many useful skills and has helped me in all facets of school, including my college applications. Next year I will be going to Brown, my first choice school!

—A high school senior

Dear John: I know you have heard the big news! It's one of those "Yay! OMG!" moments in life. I just wanted to thank you for all your support, wisdom, understanding, and expertise through this whole process. You have been and continue to be so important to my daughter. And to me.

—Parent of a high school student who just received an early decision college acceptance

I have no words to express my gratitude to you, my admiration for your skills as a teacher and mentor, and my awe at your staying power!

—Parent of a high school student

Raising our teenage sons has been quite a journey and you have been essential to their success and a great support to us. Thank you so very much.

—Parents of two public school students

We've been thinking about you because our son received an amazing transcript this year, and your support, guidance and mentoring has given him a great boost. Thank you very much for all of your efforts and your compassion. We rest easier knowing that you are in his corner.

—Parents of a high school junior

I wanted to thank you for working with me and helping me reach my goal on the ACT. You were a great mentor to me and helped me analyze my thinking style which not only helped me take the test, but also has helped me reevaluate my learning style for Senior year (which has been going very well so far). Thank you for all your help, and for believing in me!

—A high school senior

Thank you again for everything you've done to turn our sons into terrific young men. Your example and mentorship have made all the difference. —Parents whose youngest son just graduated from high school

Thank you for all the support you have given to our son this school year. He really has enjoyed the time he spent with you. You have made a huge difference in his academic success. I wish he had met you earlier!

—Parent of a high school sophomore

Just had to tell you that I got an "A"! I am on the right path, John. I really am! God bless you and thank you AGAIN!

—Graduate student at Harvard Divinity School

I just wanted to let you know that my SAT score went up! I would really like to thank you for all the help preparing for the SAT this year. You played such an important role in helping me reach my target score!

—A high school junior

We canít tell you how grateful we are for all your help. You really turned our daughterís life around. She actually cares about her schoolwork now! Sheís proud of herself and even wants to share her grades. We donít know what we would have done without you!

—Parents of a high school freshman

From Anonymous Teaching Evaluations

I had a lot of reservations going into this class. Is this really the right place for me? Will I have anything to contribute? Were my expectations too high? In fact, I had no reason to worry. Walking into class is like taking a breath of fresh air. Prof. Canaday is comfortable, engaging, and easy to work with, and his comments on our scenes are wonderful and extremely helpful. In short, I am having a great time, and I am learning a lot about myself as an artist and a person.

Incredible feedback from John. Never seen anything like it before, and it became a major part of the course's value to me. I will be very lucky indeed if my work is ever again read with the same combination of sympathy and critical insight. Also, all his strong criticisms or opinionated comments showed a respect for my ability to either absorb or push against his informed opinion according to my own judgment of what the work called for. I've never had that experience (and wonder if I will again).

The course met my expectations, and more. The combination of reading & writing was illuminating, & Prof. Canaday made it so. Rarely have I had an instructor put so much time & attention into critiquing my work, and virtually all of his questions and suggestions were helpful and pushed me/us to improve. I also appreciate that he did control and limit discussions when needed, without shutting anyone down (this is a particularly difficult task in writing courses, I have observed). The only weakness of the class was that it was too short to workshop everyoneís scenes every week. John Canaday is a gifted teacher and Iíd recommend his class highly.

This workshop did two seemingly contradictory things incredibly well. On the one hand, it was entirely student-focused, with John establishing tone and example, and then stepping back so that the students could run the show. That is exactly how a workshop should go, imho. However, the workshop was also shaped--it had a conceptual flow, influenced to a large extent by the assigned readings and the way they both reflected and talked back to developments in student interests and preoccupations. Furthermore, the workshop process itself can generate its own characteristic momentum and psychic arc, and the structure of the course exploited that in the best sense. Additionally, the course was set up to provide maximal resources and challenge, while also accommodating a wide range in student ability and engagement. It seems these factors should really work against each other. But somehow they didn't, and I am boggled by that. Really the whole thing made for an incredible experience, and every workshop I'm in after this will be measured by the high standard of excellence that John established in this class. I will be thinking about this course design for months, I am sure.

This class has been wonderful for me as a writer and student in general. The feedback on my writing has been perfectóboth from the students and professor. This class has created an environment in which I have felt completely safe and comfortable sharing my creative/personal writings. That is the highest compliment I can give a creative writing class. Thank you for making this possible.

I had a great time in this class. The professor was great & always willing to meet with the students when necessary and all of his comments have helped me. He is also great at starting group discussions which also helped me.

The instructor is a wonderfully well-read, smart, and articulate teacher, generous with his time and insight. He introduced a wide range of poems and lead concrete yet mind-expanding discussions on the elements of poetry. His written feed-back on our own poems was copious, kind, but also very honest.

John has an uncanny ability to let students talk themselves into a question. He does not teach with an agenda.

The teacher demonstrates extreme sensitivity to a plethora of issues related to prosody and the writing of poetry. The class is good as a general introduction to writing poetry in meter and all other formal aspects of prosody. I couldn't be more impressed with the instructor's knowledge and his enthusiasm for the topic.

John Canaday created a warm, nurturing and respectful community of poets, eager to help each other with their craft. His humility and his devotion to his students as human beings, and to their work, combined with his wellspring of knowledge, provided a profound opportunity for growth to students from very diverse backgrounds. Through online group discussions on the class site, fostered by John's weekly prompts of, Question of the week and Poem of the week, we all came together, a learning community, enriching each others lives, and each other's craft. Class discussions were instantly energized by the fact that we had been coming to understand each other and each others writing, throughout the week, in advance of class. Every week, we also received a batch of poems by a famous author of very different style and background from that of the week before, to read and learn from. Through the site, we also posted our own poems, as many or as few as we wanted, so that our fellow poets, as well as our teacher could comment on them. In addition, John's comments on our poem's were always sensitive, sharp, and right on, replete with excellent suggestions for approach to revision. This course also ended with a lovely, public reading of our work, where a more than full house enjoyed the fruits of our labor, marveling afterwards at both the quality and the lovely diversity of the work read. Combine all this with the fact that he was utterly generous with his time, meeting each one of his students whenever they needed help, and I am left stunned, at the experience of the last couple of months, at how much a person can learn and grow in so short a time, when an exceptional educator is at the helm, or, nay, together with us in the trenches.

Instructor is extremely knowledgeable and is able to share that information in an interesting and understandable way. His feedback on work submitted was very thoughtful and complete. He clearly takes his time in preparing for the class and the course overall. He is also very willing to meet outside of class and is always available via e-mail. He cares a lot about the students.

Professor Canaday always had good suggestions, smart critique, and helpful discussions. He made you feel smart by nearly always reaffirming your answer with positive feedback. I donít think he treated any person differently, neither because of their writing ability nor any other factor. I think he devoted a great deal of energy to the course and always acted like our work was the most important thing to him. Heís a really great professor.

I was very impressed with this course. The teacher was available to meet with me, and did so, far beyond the 3 conference requirement. I felt he was genuinely interested in my work.

John is an excellent teacher. This course, primarily through his direction but also through lively discussion, has allowed me to write better than I ever have before. Itís a shame this course and instructor arenít available during the regular term or through FASóthough surprisingly to me, the course does not suffer from its open enrollment policy (a detail that contrasts sharply with the other, college-based creative writing courses through the English department). John has also elicited intelligent and thoughtful discussion from a group setting that I once found stultifyingónever before has group discussion or workshop been so productive.

I've never had this kind of opportunity to engage with someone capable of (and interested in) discussing issues large and small in my writing, or in poetry in general. And I never thought I'd see so much growth in my own work, so quickly. I learned so much about revision by studying John's very careful and thoughtful edits, and in coming to understand the rationale behind them. I have a much stronger sense of when to trust my instincts and when to listen to criticism--even more importantly, I know much better now what kind of critical reader I need, which is invaluable. Also, I came to see I am much more dismissive of my own work than I'd realized. That can pose real problems down the line. I feel like I now have some good information about that, and maybe some sense of how to address it. I cannot over-emphasize the impact of John's hard work and support.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the course. It has been a tremendous help in accomplishing my goal of writing better dialogue. The course not only teaches how to write a play, but how to revise one, audience dynamics, etc. The instructor was very accessible. I commute from two hours away, and not once did I have a problem meeting with him.

I believe this is one of my most detailed and organized classes. From the quotes of inspiration to the course outline, all aspects of the class were well developed. Actions were taken to make sure that all of my classmates felt encouraged to push harder and go beyond what they thought they could do. In that we realized new boundaries for ourselves and grew stronger in the process.

As a workshop leader, John is remarkably good at balancing when and where to be hands-off, and when and where to introduce structure. I will be thinking about those trade-offs for some time. He paid remarkable attention to the class dynamics and headed off a whole host of potential issues--it's what *didn't* happen, in a way, that speaks to how well he managed the class. Truly that was one of the most drama-free and supportive yet engaged workshops I can imagine. And this was in a class full of very strong personalities, many of whom were very well-read and very opinionated--things got intense at times, but never disrespectful. John modeled wonderfully how to be fully engaged and critical, while also being constructive and open. As a reader, John is unusually insightful and sympathetic. He works hard to understand the world and purposes of a poem on its own terms. He'll also initiate, at times, a conversation on what that world is about. I think his obvious sympathy makes it possible to ask these very difficult questions without inducing a ton of defensiveness. Most instructors I know steer clear of these issues, but these are essential matters to learn how to think through and engage in, if only with a goal towards understanding what your own work is about. I could go on. He's just super.

I cannot see how John Canaday could possibly improve upon what has been, for me, as well as for my classmates, a learning experience of a lifetime. May he be blessed to continue doing just this, till 120, as they say. It is clearly his calling.

I learned so very much about what poetry has the ability to accomplish, how it can truly be a human calling. I learned to master structural components of poetry, which I had been struggling with, and make them my friend, so to speak, allowing me more fluidity of expression, counter to what I had previously believed. I feel so much more confidant in my ability to approach my writing, and under John's guidance, I have come to better understand my writing style, the essence of my writing, and who I am as a writer.

Best. Prompts. Ever. And striking and very interesting developments in the assignments as the semester progressed. Provided opportunity for a whole other level of thought and engagement about my work, and provided a way to more deliberately begin to sort out what my work is about.

He is a fantastic teacher. I would very much like to work with him again. He is eminently qualified for his post as a teacher and has a great deal to offer future generations of Harvard students.

John proved to be a master at managing group discussions. I have never before been in an environment where someone so gently, yet efficiently elicited comments from nearly the whole class.

John Canaday creates a beautiful community of poets in his class. In his sensitive, insightful, incisive, and humble way, referring to us as "fellow poets", he fosters a semester long discussion, both in class, as well as on our class site, through which we all have come to be enriched by each other, in addition to having profited from John's deep well of knowledge, stemming from diverse disciplines and cultures. His flexibility and individualized guidance, whether in terms of our options for presentations, or in terms of which poets we'll study, or the types of poetry we write, was also exceptional. In addition to all of his qualities, his generosity of time and devotion to each and every student, takes one's breath away, leaving them aspiring, quite simply, to be as good a person some day as well, let alone as good an educator and writer.

Dr. Canaday is extremely knowledgeable and organized, and he is an excellent teacher who can give really good feedback and be incredibly supportive. When he disagrees with a student, he has a very nice way of challenging comments or offering a different perspective.

Excellent course. Excellent Professor/instruction. Good deal of reading each week. Writing a poem a week is a challenge but such a wonderful experience. By the end of the semester, you do not want it to end. Professor is a masterful & giving teacher leading all of us & guiding us to wonderful discussions each week.


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