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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why Don't You Just TEACH Them?

My first teaching-type job was tutoring at the Hunter College Writing Center, a peer-tutoring program wherein students helped students with all manner of writing difficulties.  Sometimes, while we tutors sat around waiting for cloients, we would bemoan the fact that so many of the students we worked with lacked even the most basic grasp of English grammar.  Overhearing this, our supervisor would often chime in, "Well, then, why don't you TEACH them?"

It's a simple question that bears consideration.  Because the bemoaning-impulse never completely goes away.  But impatient behavior acceptable on the part of relatively inexperienced tutors new to the education racket, should not be so blithely overlooked when engaged in by professional teachers.

Every semester, teachers glance over students' diagnostic writings and feel their spirits sink.  Every semester, students seem to get worse.  "Oh my goodness golly," they exclaim, "these students don't know anything about writing!"  Well of course they don't!  That's why they're here!

I have made it a point never to despair over my students' early semester writings, and I encourage my fellow educators to do the same.  There are any number of reasons why those first writing samples may be underwhelming.  Students may not take early-semester writings--especially of the "diagnostic" sort--seriously.  They may be tired.  They may even be in need of some serious writing instruction.  But don't complain: Just TEACH them.

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