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Always an English Teacher: Have Red Pen Will Travel

So Heather and I are eating lunch at a Chili’s in the St. Louis Airport because hungry.*  We are on our way to NCTE in Boston, and we haven’t been together in person for a couple of months, so we are talking talking talking about English teaching, YA books, best practices, job interviews, transformation, old practices, new practices, motivating the masses, and, of course, writing our book.

Heather takes a bite of her hamburger and notices that the couple at the table next to us is composing some kind of letter on the man’s cell phone. She mutters, “They aren’t doing a very good job of it, maybe we should help.”

I hardly notice as I continue scribbling notes of our conversation in my writer’s notebook with my favorite green pen. Until. . .

He says:  “I am writing this letter to inform you that. . .”

She nods in agreement.

He says:  “Words can hardly express my feelings about . . .”

She nods in agreement.

He says:  “I will certainly miss meeting with you to hear about all of the progress that is taking place within the company and its growth.”

[Heather and I both reach for my RED pen.  j/k — but we really wanted to]

We pay our bill and leave the restaurant before we can see the lady nod her head in agreement.

Heather:  “Quick, before we teach them how to write.”

Amy:  “No kidding, talk about wordy.”

Heather:  “Talk about how NOT to pass the STAAR writing test.”

Amy:  “They exceeded 26 lines.”

Here’s the thing:  Those people were practicing real world writing. But did anyone ever teach them how to write?

Although we are not questioning the ability of their 10th grade writing teacher, we do have to question what they took away from their formal writing instruction. As educators we must think about practical skills and strategies that learners can internalize, similar to universal truths, so when they need those skills, be it reading, writing, thinking, etc., they will be able to recall and then apply them to real world tasks— like writing a resignation letter in an airport restaurant.

Three simple tips that would help our new friends:

1. Purpose should be carefully crafted within the context of the piece, not explicitly and immaturely stated in the first sentence.

2. Word choice, even when saying meaningless nothings, matters. If words can’t express feelings, what can?

3. Say it, and say it as concisely as possible.

*See English has a New Preposition, Because Internet

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