Saturday, May 08, 2010


I am the “official” English teacher for my students, but I don’t for a minute kid myself: there are countless unofficial teachers out there doing a marvelous job of making the students skillful readers and writers. The scholars come to my classroom for 48 minutes each day and respectfully listen to my lessons and suggestions, but for many hours each day they learn from the lessons of their unsanctioned, off-the-record English teachers. Every spoken sentence they hear is a lesson in the use of words to convey thoughts, and every written phrase they read is full of messages about how to make, or not make, written words speak with influence and grace. Even listening to their favorite song lyrics lets them know some of the secrets of using words to win people’s hearts. One of my students’ best English teachers is simply the books they read for pleasure. The more they read, the more they learn about making sentences move with style and strength. It doesn’t matter if the book is a best-selling, shallow story for the beach or a classic to be slowly absorbed: no matter what, the sentences will teach their intrinsic lessons about the difference between graceful and clumsy writing. I respect what I do as a trained and salaried English teacher, but I’m fully aware that I’m not alone. The kids have a bevy of books and songs and spoken sentences around them throughout their days, all dutifully doing the work of teaching reading and writing.

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