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How to Be an English Teacher: Part One—Teaching Writing

How too to Be an English Teacher: Part One—Teaching Writing

—–Tired of the same old routine? Ready for a career change? I have two words for you: English teacher. Old, worn-out English teachers are leaving the profession in droves as the landscape of education changes. Job opportunities abound as these fogies whine about testing and legislative mandates and desert our ever-improving public school system. The pay is incredible, you have to work only about half the days of the year, and thanks to ISTEP, you don’t have to spend that much time teaching anything substantive. As a 40-year veteran English teacher, I can give you a few tips that will make the job a breeze. Today, in the first installment of my series, I would like to talk about teaching writing.

—–An effective teacher must be supportive and encouraging when delivering criticism. My years of training have taught me how to craft responses that point out the flaws of a sentence while making the student feel good about writing.

—–Study carefully the following sentences, which I have actually had the pleasure of reading in my 40 years of teaching. Each of the sentences was written by one of my students, I swear. Ponder each carefully, and then try to formulate an appropriate response.

  1. We’ve all seen it before, your favorite sports team is tanking in the huge game;  they act in an erotic manner.
  1. Every time you talk to this person it feel like the very first time the excrement you get, the butterflies makes everything worth wow.
  1. A restaurant is a establishment where meals are served to customers.
  1. His lower abdomens squeezed together his stomach as a quiet gurgle shook his entire body. For a lack of better words, he had to poop.
  1. I let him kiss me good night but he rubbed me the wrong way.
  1. One reason why the food at Rick’s is so good is because it feels you up.
  1. With all the farm fresh organic herbs, spices, and meats fried or cooked to perfection, it’s like taking a bite out of heaven, an orgasm in your mouth.
  1. The lake was breathe-taking, like Susan Boil’s performance on the X-factor.
  1. Whom truck is this.
  1. My neighborhood sets at the half waypoint to three major cities: Indianapolis, Louisville, and Cincinnati.

—–Now that you have had a chance to digest these stellar examples of student writing, think about how you might respond to the writer of each. Remember, be firm, but supportive. Compare your answers to the suggested responses below.

Sentence 1: “We’ve all seen it before, your favorite sports team is tanking in the huge game; they act in an erotic manner.”

Suggested teacher response: Be careful with your word choice. I believe the word you want here is “stanking,” not “tanking.” Perhaps it was just a typo?

Sentence 2:   “Every time you talk to this person it feel like the very first time the excrement you get, the butterflies makes everything worth wow.”

Suggested teacher response: It took me a wow to get this, because I think you mean “I” instead of “you,” but I love the way this sentence really drives home the meaning of “excrement.”

Sentence 3: “A restaurant is a establishment where meals are served to customers.”

Suggested teacher response: I’m glad you clarified that. But did you get this from a source? If so, it should be cited. Someone has obviously done a lot of research here to come up with this, and they deserve the proper credit.

Sentence 4: “His lower abdomens squeezed together his stomach as a quiet gurgle shook his entire body. For a lack of better words, he had to poop.”

Suggested teacher response: I love your use of “for lack of better words”—well stated and very appropriate here.

Sentence 5: “I let him kiss me good night but he rubbed me the wrong way.”

Suggested teacher response: This sentence suffers from lack of detail. Exactly what way should he have rubbed you? That would help the reader visualize what you are trying to say.

Sentence 6: “One reason why the food at Rick’s is so good is because it feels you up.”

Suggested teacher response: The more specific you can be with your diction, the better. For example, exactly where were you sitting?

Sentence 7: “With all the farm fresh organic herbs, spices, and meats fried or cooked to perfection, it’s like taking a bite out of heaven, an orgasm in your mouth.”

Suggested teacher response: I like the way you write from your own experiences.

Sentence 8: “The lake was breathe-taking, like Susan Boil’s performance on the X-factor.”

Suggested teacher response: Excellent analogy; that particular lake is quite large and shallow.

Sentence 9: “Whom truck is this.”

Suggested teacher response: The only thing I might suggest is you need a question mark.

Sentence 10: “My neighborhood sets at the half waypoint to three major cities: Indianapolis, Louisville, and Cincinnati.”

Suggested teacher response: Wouldn’t that be the third-way point? No, wait. Never mind; I see it now.

—–Okay, now it is your turn. Below are ten more sentences actually written by my students. This time, you fill in the proper response. Remember, be firm but supportive. My suggested responses are at the bottom.

Sentence 1: “A beautifully or castrated porcelain latrine sits next to the shower.”

Your response:   ___________________________________________________________________________

Sentence 2: “I live on a cold sack.”

Your response: _________________________________________________________________________

Sentence 3: “As long as I do not have Alzheimer’s disease, I will not forget the first taste in Red Lobster Restaurant.”

Your response:_________________________________________________________

Sentence 4: “When I speak of water crisis I’m talking about the melting of glaciers that causes our polar bears to deteriorate and become homeless.”

Your response: _____________________________________________________

Sentence 5: “Global warming is important to us because without earth, we humans and all other living beings here would have nowhere to go.”

Your response: ______________________________________________________

Sentence 6: “One math related disability involves copulation.”

Your response: ______________________________________________________

Sentence 7: “My grandfather used to like to race a little cane.”

Your response: _______________________________________________________

Sentence 8: “The other day I was playing a video game with my friend, when I got shot in the face by a Nazi.”

Your response: _______________________________________________________

Sentence 9: “Many of these symptoms are treatable. Bipolar disorder is also very treatable with many different treatments. Bipolar disorder is recognized now as a potentially treatable disease, but many doctors say that it is very treatable.”

Your response: _______________________________________________________

Sentence 10: “Grandparents are one of a kind.”

Your response: ________________________________________________________

So how did you do? Compare your responses with the suggestions below:

Suggested responses:

  1. Good detail. I hate when my latrines have testicles on them.
  2. I drove down a dead-end street once and I think I saw you.
  3. This is rather unclear: how will you know if you remember it or not?
  4. Your sentence is constructed in such a way that it makes me cry.
  5. Interestingly phrased—I never thought of it that way.
  6. Sometimes a photograph accompanying your text can add a lot. Do you have one of this?
  7. How thoughtful of you to pay tribute to him. How long was he abel to do that?
  8. You don’t know how sorry I am to have to read this.
  9. It sounds as though you really know what you are talking about here.
  10. Uh . . .okay.

How did you do?

Now we have covered the basics of writing. In our next installment, we’ll tackle how to teach grammar. It’s even easier.

 

About Mark Wright

After almost 40 years teaching high school English—most of them at South Vermillion—Wright now teaches composition part time at ISU. A member of the Wabash Valley Musicians’ Hall of Fame, Wright and his Band—The Crowe Committee—have become a popular attraction in the Terre Haute music scene.

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