When I say that, what kinds of feelings or images come to mind? For most people, it’s “oh, I better watch my language” or “I was never good at English.” Few people respond with “I love English.”
Unfortunately, I hear the negative comments most. A colleague of mine says that when she’s asked “what do you do,” she responds, “I teach writing.” Perhaps this is an alternative to my answer, but I teach more than writing, so saying “I teach English” better reflects what it is I do. The problem, however, is with people’s perceptions with what I do.
Many people think that I teach grammar, punctuation, and spelling. That’s it. Perhaps I teach a few essay writing techniques, and I read, but that’s about it. That’s easy, right? Well, if that’s really all you need to know, then perhaps it is easy, but this is not what I do. In fact, I try to avoid teaching grammar, punctuation, and spelling as much as possible. Students who enter my class hopefully have had plenty of instruction on this. If students need help with it, then I provide resources and places for students to find their own answers.
See, I believe in the lesson my mother taught me: being smart isn’t about knowing the answers; it’s about knowing how to find the answers. Therefore, that’s one thing I do: I show students how to find answers. This comes with not only finding proper grammar rules, but also how to find information and how to use that information to support their opinions.
Not only do I teach students how to find information; I teach them strategies for evaluating those sources to make sure they’re appropriate for research. This includes lessons in logical fallacies, techniques in persuasion, and strategies for spotting bad writing that goes beyond bad grammar and mechanics.
Have you ever read something and thought, “ugh! That is so awful,” but you couldn’t exactly say why it was bad? What about the opposite: something is so good and you loved it, but you couldn’t exactly say why? Well, that’s what I do. I help students understand why some writing is good and why some writing is bad.
But again, it’s more than that.
The content of an essay is more than just the words on the page. It’s the idea behind those words. It’s the proof behind the argument. It’s the subtlety behind the precisely chosen word.
So what is it I do? I teach students how to read between the lines…how to understand context and subtext.
I teach my students how to think and learn.
And I think that has value.