[NCTE-TALK:2286] Teachers writing? Sure...but only so much!

Fri, 12 Jan 1996 19:26:58 -0600

To Ms. Bass and other Englishy-sorts...

Firstoff, I like to write how delighted I am that the batching system seems
to have been dismantled. Hooray -- the return of repartee!

Now, about this question, "Should English teachers be writing?" I think we
are talking around the problem a bit. Obviously, it is for the best if
English teachers (that is to say, writing teachers) keep writing. William
James said it very well in "Talks to Teachers":

>> In the schoolroom, imitation and emulation play absolutely vital parts.
Every teacher knows the advantage of having certain things performed by
whole bands of children at a time. The teacher who meets with most success
is the teacher whose own ways are most imitable. A teacher should never try
to make the pupils do a thing which she cannot do herself. [note the use of
"she" here] "Come and let me show you how" is an incomparably better
stimulus than "Go and do it as the book directs." Children admire a teacher
who has skill. What he does seems easy, and they wish to emulate it. It is
useless for a dull and devitalized teacher to exhort her pupils to wake up
and take an interest. She must first take one herself; then her example is
as effective as no exhortation can possibly be. <<

Can there really be any doubt that practitioners are better than talkers?

However, we are all quite familiar with the "publish or perish" phenomenon in
higher education. Many of us, unfortunately, have attended classses with
published professors who literally cannot teach their way out of paper bags.
If NCTE mandates more writing from its K-12 teachers, we may find a similar
problem creeping downwards: more instructors who spend more time crafting
their own work than that of their students.

Certainly, English teachers should be reading and writing a great deal. But
we must avoid "publish or perish" at the K-12 level: administrators'
evaluations and hiring decisions must not place too much emphasis on a
teacher's own writing. Teachers, after all, are already supposed to know how
to write. Their crucial task is insuring that their pupils learn how as
well. To make an analogy to sports, as Tim Gillespie did: a coach shows
his or her players HOW to do something; if we want to measure effectiveness,
we look at the team, not all how many awards and citations the coach has
hanging from the walls.

Curious to hear reactions, I am,

John Demeny

p.s. - Ms. Bass, in case Michael Day hasn't already told you, "F2F" stands
for "face to face"; "IMHO" for "in my humble opinion."