[NCTE-TALK:2287] Re: should writing teachers write?

Nancy Farnan (nfarnan@mail.sdsu.edu)
Fri, 12 Jan 1996 19:27:20 -0600

I was inspired to take a few minutes to thank Barbara for her thoughts and
(Tom Gillespie's) about teachers (esp. writing teachers) writing. Here at
San Diego State we have a 3-Summer MA program with an emphasis on secondary
English education. It has a strong writing strand, and one of the courses
is "Teacher as Writer," conducted by an instructor who is part of a
professional writers' community. The comments and insights that come from
teachers in that class are amazing. They learn about themselves, about
themselves as writers, and about themselves as teachers of writing. I don't
think these insights could have been "taught" to them. I think they can
only be learner, and it our experience, it is the "teacher as writer"
stance that promotes the learning.

Again, thanks for the sharing....

Nancy Farnan

>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?

Just a few thoughts....

Nancy Farnan
San Diego State University
School of Teacher Education
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-1153
FAX: 619/594-7828
Phone: 619/594-1370