[NCTE-TALK:2279] should writing teachers write?

Fri, 12 Jan 1996 13:28:04 -0600

One of the founding principles of the National Writing Project is "Teachers of
writing should also write." Before I went through the Maryland Writing
Project's Summer Teacher Institute, I would have objected to Fred Kemp's
statement just as Julia did. But I don't object anymore. I know that you are
not saying, Julia, that teachers of writing SHOULDN'T write...you agree with
the premise that we should, but you argue that we just don't have enough time
because of all the pressures of our jobs. In fact, there was an article in the
March 1990 English Journal in which Karen Jost, a Wisconsin English teacher,
complains about that very thing. She says that people who teach in the
universities have passed down a "Thou shalt write" commandment to hs English
teachers who have "much less to gain professionally by writing" than do those
in higher ed. She also cites a lack of time. Tim Gillespie, writing in the
Winter 95 edition of The Quarterly, a publication of the NWP, says that the
English Journal experienced an avalanche of responses regarding that article.
You might want to check that article out along with the follow up responses.
There was a 25 page follow-up forum in Sept 1990 with letters pro and con and
another essay by Karen Jost where she confirms her original stance, stating no
hard research proves students write better in classrooms where the teachers
write. Then in March 1991 there was another volley of responses on the same
subject. Gillespie states, "this is an issue of great consequence and emotional
import to a great many teachers." He goes on to raise three important points
about why writing teachers should write, and with your permission, (or
without!) I'll list them here:
1. When teachers write, we establish our own authority. When teachers state
defensively that they don't have to feel guilty about not writing, he states,
they reveal how disempowered they must feel. Writing, Gillespie feels, is one
way to reclaim that power.

2. Writing teachers should write to expand our repertoire of useful responses
to students. Our own experiences with the joys and struggles of writing give us
personal insight into possible problems and strategies for dealing with those
problems as well as firthand knowledge about approaches, disciplines,
frustrations, shortcuts, dangers...If we write and reflect on our writing
regularly, we enlarge our capacity to respond to student compositions. We can
offer feedback or guidance from the wisdom we have gained from our own
experiences as writers. He goes on to say that if the message we convey to our
students is that people with busy lives don't have the time, or more
significantly, the need to write, why should we teach the skill? If even a hs
writing teacher doesn't want or need to write, who actually does? Why is
writing really a necessary skill for anyone?

3. A final reason Gillespie gives has to do with our professionalism...we are
often confronted withthe popular notion that teachers don't really know much
about anything, except perhaps a little pedagogy. This image is at the heart
of widespread disrespect forour profession. Can you imagine, he says, articles
such as "Why swimming teachers shouldn't swim"..."Why reading teachers
shouldn't read"? He urges us to fight against the famous aphorism of GBS:Those
who can, do; those who cannot, teach."

One final point Gillespie brings up is that Karen Jost CAN DO...in fact, her
article caused a heated debate and she inspired others to write in response
to her...so she represents all teachers well because she has demonstrated to her
students andher community that she practices what she preaches in class. He
urges us to all "sharpen our pencils, uncap our pens, let our computers hum.
Writing and teaching are seamless work."

I'm anxiously awaiting your responses.
PS: Where have all the Ishmaelers gone?