This Is the Middle

This is the middle.
Things have had tome to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.

From “Aristotle” by Billy Collins

NCTE this year has been an interesting experience for me so far. Because I’m not teaching any English classes this year, so on one level, it might seem strange that I’m here at all. But I’m grateful for the chance to present with a Language Arts colleague from last year and to connect with old and new (at least in-person) friends.

Perhaps it’s my new position description as a history teacher than led to my frustration with some of the “teachers in subjects other than English don’t like/aren’t good at teaching writing within their disciplines” vibe I got in one of the morning sessions. I’m certainly aware that is the case for some, maybe many, of non-English teachers, but it rubbed me a bit the wrong way. I’m also thinking more about the idea of discipline-specific teaching responsibilities. I wonder if sometimes keeping disciplines in their place is more about convenience and comfort for adults than benefit for students. I’m not ready to argue for the elimination of discipline-specific teaching, but I do think that the “real world” doesn’t divide neatly down discipline-specific lines. Why not help prepare our students for that world by modeling it better in schools?

I’ll admit I have a thing for the acerbically witty professor-type, so Billy Collins is just my cup of tea. Hearing him read at the Middle Level Luncheon and getting to meet him afterward was the highlight of the day so far. What I love about Collins is the way his poetry sneaks up on you, they way it turns on a dime from funny to pensive.

I was sad to miss Gary and LeeAnn’s session, which was totally packed out, but happy that I decided to wander down to the exhibit hall and ran into Alan Sitomer signing copies of his new book, The Downside of Being Up. Think Judy Blume but for the male set.

I expect there’s more good stuff to come in the next couple days. I’m super-excited about a session on Open Ed Resources that Paul and Antero et al are doing Saturday morning, and I’m looking forward to sharing about our sixth grade students’ ePortfolios. Jim Burke, Alan Sitomer, and Jeff Wilhelm’s session is always a riot, a thoughtful riot, of course, and I’m glad it’ll be capping off the conference for me. Seems a proper way to go out.

3 thoughts on “This Is the Middle

  1. “teachers in subjects other than English don’t like/aren’t good at teaching writing within their disciplines”

    You happen to be with some of the greatest teachers at NCTE, but the reality lots of English and ELA teachers are not good at teaching writing. That is the true reality.

  2. If I’d known they were turning people away from our session because it was so full, I’d have done something about it, especially if I’d known you were out there.

    But what a great pleasure to run into you in a crosswalk and meet your mom!

    When it comes to cross-curricular writing, I find a lot of good teachers who are uncomfortable, not unwilling. They seem to sense that teaching writing is different and scary, maybe because of its process orientation when they’re more used to a content-based curriculum. They’re also more concerned, I think, with how to evaluate writing than with providing students writing opportunities. They’re OK with having students write but unsure what to do with it when students are finished.

    We can help with that!

  3. Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking, Gary. Many non-English teachers don’t teach writing because they’re scared or doubt their own abilities. Rather than grumbling about it or taking it over as English teachers, we should be looking for ways to help empower them.

    wcgaskins- I guess I’m less interested in the present reality, although I’m fine with acknowledging it, but in thinking about productive ways to move forward that don’t create a culture of dependence or bitterness.

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