Comment Posted on ‘Some Blog Encouragement’

I wrote and posted the following as a comment on a previous post entitled ‘Some Blog Encouragement.’ If you haven’t read it and want the background, I would encourage you to scroll on down and take a read. My apologies for the cut and paste here, but I wanted those who read this blog regularly to hear my remix of my own post and reactions to follow-up comments…to be honest, this post and reactions had my mental finger hovering over the big red delete button on this blog. I felt as if I was being ‘sussed’ by one post, instead of it being read from within the context of this entire blog. I am hoping that those who read my posts semi-regularly would understand the meaning behind that post and put it in the context that it is a small part of a big whole.
Flip through any book and read a page at random. The meaning you take from that page will be entirely different than if you were to read the entire book.
I will post before I ramble on too much.

Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I feel as though I am eavesdropping on a conversation and I just wanted to chime in.
First of all, I want to apologize for the errors in the original post. I was encountering some bugs with wordpress at the time of posting.
Second…I am finding it interesting hearing what people are having to say on this…and went back to reread my initial post.
I want to be clear on one thing: teaching grammar and critical reading/thinking skills are important in teaching English.
A few points from the original post that I would like to revisit:
“Sometimes we get so caught up in the curriculum or in trying to meet those demands that we forget real teaching is just loving kids and modeling passion” (me). While I agree with the sentiment behind these words (knowing that it is I who wrote them), I believe it is important to get caught up in that curriculum and trying to meet those demands. I think it is a big part of our job as educators to get inside the curriculum and know it; it is our job to sift through it and spend time wrestling with how we will deliver that curriculum in the classroom.
What I can tell you about the curriculum, however, is that it had absolutely nothing to do with my desire to become a teacher.
“The right thing to do is care for our students. The curriculum takes a distant second to this.” (me). I still stand by this statement, but would add to it that caring for our students means that we teach the curriculum. If we really care for our students, if we really want to see them succeed and help them do so, then we will teach the curriculum. I teach senior high English, a topic that has a government exam at the end of the course worth %40 of the grade. It would be a terrible disservice to my students to not prepare them for success in that exam by not teaching or covering the curriculum. If I care for my students, then I will do my best to equip them with the skills they need to face that exam and the outside world. Having said that, I find it ironic to note that the BC Ministry of Education has seen fit to remove the grammar and editing skills portion of the final exam, a move which clearly hints at their collective hand in terms of where their values are and seems to suggest to teachers that grammar is not all that important to the Ministry of Ed.
I’d like to borrow from Tracy W’s comment, “passion and caring is all very important, but passion and caring isn’t enough, some actual content has to be fit in there too.” Let me take the liberty of adding that passion and caring without content is misdirected and ineffective. While I am typing this, however, something about Maslow’s Hierarchy is sticking in my brain…something about not expecting people to move on to other needs when their basic needs for love and safety are not met…
I am also grateful for David’s comments:

“Sorry, but as a college professor, it is my experience that a large swath of students are NOT picking this up on their own. I have encountered too many students who are making elementary school level mistakes in spelling and grammar (among other things). How does it show them love to allow them get to college so ill-prepared?”

I wholeheartedly agree with these thoughts, and would add that, as a senior English teacher, I am seeing similar things. Some students (more than some) are coming into my classroom ill prepared and are lacking in essential, foundational grammar and composition skills.
A friend of mine who recently defended her Master’s thesis related a story to me that I feel is appropriate. She was going to meet her sponsor prof (not sure if that is the proper term, my apologies), but the prof, one we had both taken undergrad courses from and really respected and admired, was on the phone at the time, telling off someone’s high school English teacher for passing them and allowing them to sail through without equipping them.
I say right on to that one! Again, I think if we are passionate and caring, then we will teach the curriculum and do our best to teach it!
I want to thank everyone for their comments. I also want you to know that I spend a lot of time in the curriculum. I wade through it on a regular basis to refresh my memory and tie assignments directly to it, sometimes quoting learning outcomes verbatim from it so that students see my reasoning for assignments. Walk into my office at certain times and it may seem like a paper bomb went off, as I have curriculum spread out on the floor around my chair with a laptop on my desk and books filling in any places where carpet is showing. My apologies if the ‘passion’ in my post led you to believe otherwise.

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3 thoughts on “Comment Posted on ‘Some Blog Encouragement’

  1. James, what you say about reading in context is very true. As a long time reader of your blog (in blogging terms since September last year qualifies as a long time) I have gotten to “know you” in terms of your professional passions, areas of focus and interest. So it’s not suprising that when you get a comment that questions your motives, it is your long term readers who will jump to your defence via the comments. Be assured that even if I don’t always jump in back you against a negative or misguided comment, I will be reading, shaking my head and thinking, “This person has missed James’ point!” It is amazing that comments will always propagate whenever a blogger goes out on a limb in an attempt to further their learning, sometimes to try and cut the limb off. The Reading Wars over at Borderland is a classic example.

  2. The controversy starting quote,”The grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, terms, literary elements, stories, authors even writing jargon, they will pick up on the way with or without you,” was never intended to be interpreted as a teacher advocating to another teacher to throw curriculum out the window. In defense of the statement, I was wandering around this blog and James (whom I do not know) seemed to be in a place that wanted for encouragement. I have been in that place as an educator very often. I judged from his class’s blog and other entries posted that he seemed to be doing fine as far as actual teaching. I felt that what was needed was a bit of a emotional boost so, that’s what I tried to give him – just as I would do with my students. I judged from the postings that James seemed to be a pretty intelligent and mature person and would not miscontrue the encouragement for an opportunity to lay off the curriculum – which he did not. I certainly did not mean to send the message that touchy-feely teachers are doing nothing curriculum-wise and spending all thier time caring. James stated it nicely, “I think if we are passionate and caring, then we will teach the curriculum and do our best to teach it!” This is all that I meant in my comments

    As a teacher, I know that most teachers don’t just do nothing – a popular misconception among the public. This is why I was so hard on Steve-parent. I may seem a little defensive but, I know Steve-parent misunderstood my statements. I must say that the principal who said “When in doubt, love”, I’m sure didn’t mean to imply that any teacher should “just show up and be, rather than come prepared to use your training to instruct a child who will never get that year back”(Steve-parent). This sounds as ridiculous to me as my statements probably did to him. This prinpal probably, too, meant to remember why you became a teacher and the answers (concerning curriculum and instruction) will come to you.

    Most teachers do not become teachers because we have a unquenching desire to correct papers and spend all day talking about splint-infinitives. Most teachers become teachers because they are caring people who want to help. That’s all I was doing – trying to help a fellow teacher through, what I percieved to be, a stale time. Anyone, especially fellow-educators, who percieved my comments to state or imply that we should all throw curriculum to the wayside or to let someone else deal with it, has misunderstood my intentions – surprisingly to me.

    To David-college professor and to professor chewing out high-school English teacher, I’d like to say that I have my students for five months of thier high school career. This is not enough time to correct all the problems in that child’s education.

    I’m amazed that so many of you saw the statements as so black or white.

    I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone.

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