On being a writing teacher

It's near the end of first term. I have marked nearly 500 assignments given to me by the four English classes I teach as well as the lone Social Science Grade 8 class (over 150 students in total). I have survived the extra hours spent with debating trips and going to watch evening plays (coming home at 9pm or later) and tagging along to the Grade 8 camp (with wonderful colleagues and spirited teenagers). I have played "mother", been  a shoulder to cry on more than once, trying to comfort teary teenagers who come into my classroom or simply welcome my hugs when I've noticed they need a good cry. I am exhausted.

The marking required me to pore over was some creative writing. I had to mark stories and essays. Some were brilliant and thought provoking. Others made me wonder whether I've done a good job as an English teacher this term. While reading the stories I realised  I wish I had more time to write stories.

Telling a story and sharing it with others is akin to opening up one's emotions, taking a risk and showing the rest of the world that which has been created in the mind. I have always been less confident when writing fiction. I find it difficult crafting characters and recreating the characters in the story. My students are equally daunted by the task of writing. Forming stories and exposing what one thinks on paper is not an easy process. My kids do not know how to edit their work. They make careless errors with words they know how to spell. They do not follow instructions. And most of the Grade 8s don't know how to write a fairy tale.

As a writing teacher and a blogger I have often wondered how to change this in my kids: how can I make writing a valuable exercise for them to enjoy in order for them to see an improvement in their work? I have developed an intense hatred for teaching grammar. I don't see the link between teaching  kids abstract rules about language (whether or not English is their mother tongue) and an improvement in their engagement with reading and writing in English. I am of the belief that if kids read more, their writing would improve because they would (unconsciously) want to emulate the kind of writing they see in their books. I was taught English grammar until I was in Grade 7. In high school I remember a few grammar lessons and I didn't understand their purpose. In high school my English teacher would give us a module that we were required to use in our own time to teach ourselves the grammar. I became a better writer not because of grammar but because I was reading more. I was never taught grammar in isiXhosa but I know how to speak, read and write isiXHosa and that's mostly because I started reading isiXhosa (and isiXhosa has easier phonetics to understand)

 I wish this could be the case with the kids I teach. My negative attitude towards teaching grammar means that I'm a horrible teacher where grammar is concerned. I confuse the kids and myself while trying to pretend that I know what I'm talking about. I apologise to all my students at the beginning of every language lesson as though I'm preparing them for a torturous hour of their lives.

However, the truth is, many of my kids have no desire to read anything other than the scrapings they pick up from time to time. Where they do try to emulate writers, their writing becomes a regurgitation of the Americanisms they hear on tv or read in the teen literature.

I don't know how to change my attitude towards teaching grammar. My only strategy has been to ask my colleague-friends to teach my classes grammar and we can swap lessons. I have no desire for understanding nor appreciating transitive and intransitive verbs. When kids speak, they do not stop and consider whether they are parsing correctly. Granted, language rules are important for explaining why certain ways of speaking and writing are not allowed, but I'm not convinced that teaching grammar is the only way to do so.

I have survived the first term of my second year as a teacher in spite of my horrible language lessons and the mountains of marking I have been buried under. Now I'm counting down the days until the end of the term...less than 10 teaching days, phew! Did I mention that I am exhausted?


Duncan Faber said…
I teach creative writing to kids, and I stumbled on a really effective trick. Let them listen to audiobooks. There's something about hearing the stories read aloud that engages the kids differently. It almost becomes theater to them. There's lots of sites where you can download audiobooks for kids, but I use this one a lot because their stories are free, and also original. So much better than letting them hear stories they've already heard a million times. Here's the link, if anyone is interested. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/moral-stories-for-kids
utter said…
Thanks Duncan. I'm reading Artemis Fowl with the Grade 8s, I'll try the audiobook for the remainder of the term.

Popular posts from this blog

A good makoti doesn't sleep in

Lalela: Zimamele — a place for listening to yourself