Friday, June 25, 2010
STRAIGHT AND NARROW TEACHING
Though I am not a Bible reader, I often recall a phrase I heard growing up, something about “the straight and narrow way”, and I’ve sometimes pondered its connection to teaching. Just this morning it came to me, as it often has, that teaching English might be far simpler than I usually make it out to be. Perhaps, I thought, it’s really a fairly straight and narrow path that could be followed with little difficulty by any teacher who turns away from the often overstated complexities and mysteries of the work and simply decides to show students how to write clearly and read perceptively. That’s really what it’s all about – teaching kids to write understandable sentences and to read with a strong mind. Perhaps all the multitudinous theories, techniques, strategies, and approaches to teaching English should be occasionally set aside so we can rub our eyes and see again these two simple but special end products: good writers and good readers. I don’t mean to suggest that teaching English is easy – just that the work could be done in a more straightforward and uncomplicated manner. There’s a road to be traveled – good reading and writing – and it’s a straight and clearly marked road, provided our minds aren’t lost in pedagogical jargon and theoretical labyrinths. It might be as simple as making sure the students write and read a lot, and steering them back onto the designated road when they start to swerve away. Of course, if I’m traveling a road with my students, then I should obviously stay out front and show the kids how it’s done and where we’re heading. That means, to my mind, providing models for the students to study and follow. If good writing means using a variety of sentence lengths, then I need to show them how to do it, over and over again as we travel down the road. If good reading means reading slowly and mindfully, then they need to see me doing it day after day so they can follow my lead. Yes, teaching is exhausting and often exasperating work, but it could be a little simpler, a little more direct, a little less stressful if I got back on the straight and narrow way.