In the “Foreword to Teachers,” Degen said a few things that all teachers of writing should note.
Too many teachers merely assign a paper, provide little instruction over the methods for achieving expectations, and scream while grading “these terrible essays.”
He admits that he unfortunately did this as well, and I too am guilty. I can’t imagine a teacher who hasn’t done this at some point, especially early on in his or her career. In this same section, he reminds teachers that we must always remember not to assume that our students will just know how to write by the time they reach us, regardless of their grade level.
The ability to communicate through writing develops at a much slower rate than does the ability to communicate through speech and requires much more formal instruction.
In my own classroom, I have discovered that the process of writing must be practiced and modeled by the teacher in front of the students “repeatedly,” or the students will simply not learn how to write. Degen ends the section he titles, “Demonstrate the Writing Process Repeatedly” in the “Foreword to Teachers” by saying,
To keep assigning papers without teaching how to write them is professional negligence.
In this last statement, Degen does not apologize for rebuking teachers, and I welcome his censure and expectations. Knowing it is my job to teach my students to read critically and write clearly, pushes me to continually seek out the advice of authors, teachers, and other professionals who can assist me in my endeavor.
How does Degen provide assistance for writing teachers?
Degen provides his own list of editing symbols to assist the student in understanding their own writing. He also provides teachers with numerous examples to use as models for revising student writing. I particularly found chapter 4, “Grammar for Structure and Syntax,” useful. Is this the magic book that will turn me into the writing teacher that every student needs? No, it is a tool that I will use as I develop my own writing abilities and my own strategies for modeling effective writing. Yes, I highlighted and sticky noted the really good stuff that I will use, but I have many, many books with my annotations. Although all of this advice becomes overwhelming at times, what I have discovered as I continually seek answers is that the strategies start becoming a part of me. I begin the school year reviewing my favorite writing instruction books and the more I re-read the pages, the more I learn and the more I incorporate all of this advice into my teaching, which also makes me realize that I will never find the perfect book. I will always be seeking knowledge that will help me become a better teacher. This is my job, and as long as I am seeking and employing effective strategies in my classroom instead of merely handing out assignments, I won’t be guilty of negligence.