Teaching Philosophy

This page may be subject to change as I redefine and refine what I think about writing and writing instruction. The following entry was posted on September 23rd, 2019.

One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

-Malala Yousafzai

My father once wrote a manuscript for a novel that was the second in a series, and he was kind enough to allow me to review it. I gleefully went through it with a red pen, marking errors, things that weren’t wrong but could be better, and, occasionally, things he did well.

He took a writing hiatus after that.

I have never been able to determine how much of what I said contributed to that decision, but I know that it did, and I vowed to never let that happen again. I never want to criticize someone to the point where they give up on writing, especially if it’s something they feel passionate enough about to write two novel-length manuscripts.

Now that I work at the Writing Center, one of the main philosophies they encourage is a system of praise-critique-praise. The idea is that if you critique the student’s writing too frequently without also providing feedback on what they do well, they are likely to a) become discouraged and/or defensive, and b) not learn as much as if they heard what practices they should continue using.

The THINK acronym for providing commentary and feedback.

THINK (True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind) seems like an elementary school philosophy, but it’s true—as a teacher, it is not your responsibility to teach students to write a perfect blog post or the perfect five paragraph essay. Instead, you should be doing what you can to assist and inspire students to produce the best work possible.

In my Introductory Writing post, I compared writing to dancing, and I said that not everyone who learns to dance will be good enough to perform with the Bolshoi, and I meant it. Not all dancers can or even want to join the Russian Conservatory, and not all writers can or want to win a Pulitzer or Nobel prize. The thing is: that’s the point. Those awards are made as an acknowledgement of outstanding work and to encourage those who aspire to greatness. It’s not the same as saying that someone can’t or shouldn’t try. You never know your limitations until you try, and you will probably never know your students’ limitations at all.

The long and the short of my teaching philosophy is that a teacher should never tear down what they’re supposed to be building up.