What do you believe about the teaching of English?

This is from one of my first assignments in my M.A.T. program. I figure my blog could also be used as place to share my thoughts as I work toward my degree – and then even further.

This is a unique question for somebody like me because I’m in the pre-teaching stage. I just started my program and haven’t even had the opportunity to observe teachers – both in English and other subjects – interact with and pass on knowledge to their students. But it’s still a valid question because, after all, even as a prospective teacher, I still hold beliefs about a high school English classroom.

For me, the teaching of English is highlighted best whenever the teacher has given the student an opportunity to express their ideas. I feel that a central goal for a teacher is to create an open forum in the classroom for students to discuss good and bad ideas alike. The key, however, is not to have a free-for-all in terms of structure in the classroom. Rather, the teacher can conduct a lesson that best encourages discussion.

My belief in this type of English teaching has its roots in my undergraduate career, where I saw a contrast from my high school English classes. Back in secondary school, a majority of my English classes (and I’m having a hard time believing it wasn’t all of them) fell under a transmission-type atmosphere. That kind of teaching was noticeable not only from the way the class was run, but the way it was set up. The teacher was at the front of the classroom and the students were in their desks facing the teacher in rows and columns.

That seems to be the cliché way of viewing a classroom. And although I never had trouble with English in high school, when I saw a different kind of teaching in college, I changed my belief in how English should be taught. During my undergraduate studies, almost all of my literature and English writing classes were setup in a circular fashion in one way or another. The professor taught, but also encouraged discussion. By being able to see other students and the encouragement from the professor to engage in debate and discussion – even with him – I felt a sense of discovery in my mind. The open-endedness of the classroom showed me that there is more than one answer to a question and to not always believe what one reads or sees. The idea, in a sense, was to challenge what was put in front of you.

I appreciated this the classroom, as it taught me to think outside the box. But it wasn’t until I was the sports editor at The Pitt News that I saw it put into place by peers and I. There, we were instructed to think critically about journalism. It was important to look for different angles in stories, new features and question what a media and public relations representative was telling us. I also saw it in editorial discussions, as the opinions editors asked for suggestions. And throughout our debate, we always tossed around various ideas and opinions to come to the best agreement we could.

So, I see teaching English as a something that can cross into all professions. Yes, the basics of proper English writing and grammar are important when communicating. And that is something that is taught throughout a student’s education. But I’ve also witnessed an open-ended forum that was fostered in class carry over into the work place. That, then, I think is what teaching English is all about. It’s to make sure that whatever profession a student decides on, they have an open mind. And with that comes a respect toward teachers and peers.

And what is great about my experience of English education – and my view on what an English classroom should look like – is that it is one of the main goals of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education philosophy on English education. It looks like it’s the perfect fit. Now, if only being a teacher was this easy.

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4 Comments

Filed under Class assignment, Classroom management, Education, English, Journalism, Personal, Teaching, Writing

4 responses to “What do you believe about the teaching of English?

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog. I have been teaching U.S. History in FL for 5 years. I am also certified in ELA. Additionally, I will be starting my Master’s with Drexel in the fall. I believe what you are referring to is called a paideia classroom. I had a class in university that used this method. It was awesome for discussions! However, through my experiences I have found it to be beneficial to keep my classroom in rows and rearrange the desks when we have specific activities that require us to do so. Keeping the desks in rows has a much more positive effect on the behaviors in the classroom. It makes classroom management a heck of a lot easier! It ends up being like a routine procedure.
    I applaud you for having the courage to want to study to be a teacher.

    If you haven’t seen it you must watch Waiting For Superman.

    • Thanks for reading and it’s always great to hear a teacher’s opinion.

      I agree with what you’re saying about keeping kids in rows in columns in terms of keeping them disciplined. I just left that out because I wanted to focus more on the discussion aspect of a classroom, which I think – and looks like you’d agree – is best suited with seats in a circle.

      And I’ve seen Waiting for Superman. Above all, I was stunned at what some people will do for the kids and the hardships that follow when things don’t go their way. Not to mention the statistics about our educational system that just blows me away – and not in a good way.

  2. This is a local blogger from the city in which I live. Have a read. It is written well and quite amusing. http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/401820/mark-woods/2011-06-14/mark-woods-teachers-are-true-survivors-education

  3. Pingback: Beliefs in teaching English (a followup) | jay.blog

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