A Review of Bad Ideas About Writing, Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe

Table of Contents About Us References

Chapter 8: Bad Ideas About Writing Teachers. Review by Brian Urias

The final chapter, “Bad Ideas About Writing Teachers,” featured six essays by seven writing professionals who helpfully covered ground on multiple roles and modes of writing instruction, including secondary-school writing, dual-enrollment instruction, and face-to-face and online writing instruction. The chapter’s sections followed a smooth progression, beginning with concerns about those who teach writing before college and ending with those who teach at the college level, both face-to-face and online.

The first half of the chapter focused on writing instruction before college. Andrew Hollinger’s “You’re Going to Need This for College” warned teachers against relying on the threat of college expectations as a placeholder for explaining a task’s purpose. Caroline Wilkinson’s “Dual-Enrollment Writing Classes Should Always Be Pursued” explained the cultural and structural differences between high school and college writing classes that problematize dual-enrollment programs. Elizabethada A. Wright’s “Secondary-School English Teachers Should Only Be Taught Literature” lamented the lack of writing instruction in secondary-school English classes, which is perpetuated by university programs in secondary English education that focus almost exclusively on literature. As Smagorinsky, Wilson, and Moore (2011) declared, “[B]eginning teachers tend to default to the methods they learned from their experiences as students” (p. 264), indicating that even if programs recognize the importance of composition instruction, the cycle of literature emphasis begetting literature emphasis will be tough to break before any critical mass is reached.

The last three sections discussed matters of college-level writing. Tiffany Bourelle and Andy Bourelle’s “Face-to-Face Courses Are Superior to Online Courses” countered the idea that online courses are inherently inferior to those courses held in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Beth L. Hewett’s section “Anyone Can Teach an Online Writing Course” outlined the additional responsibilities and challenges of online writing instruction. Finally, Seth Kahn’s “Anyone Can Teach Writing” advocated for better teacher training and professional treatment for those who teach writing, countering the idea that writing instruction doesn’t require teachers to be treated, trained, or paid as professionals. This point stands against the growing reliance in many institutions on contingent faculty—employees who do not often benefit from the training, pay, and professionalization Kahn argued is necessary for the work of writing instruction, to say nothing of the security that is necessary for the employee’s own well-being.

Ultimately, this chapter revealed faulty thinking about writing teachers in order, it seems, to illuminate issues about writing instruction: how writing teachers do, should, and are unable to perform their work. “Bad Ideas About Writing Teachers” empathetically highlighted the struggles writing teachers face through a lack of training, resources, and recognition, making the case (especially in Kahn’s contribution to the chapter) for others—politicians, school administrators, and students, to name a few—to better appreciate the importance and difficulties of quality composition instruction.

Ultimately, this chapter revealed faulty thinking about writing teachers in order, it seems, to illuminate issues about writing instruction: how writing teachers do, should, and are unable to perform their work.

Because this chapter’s sections were primarily concerned with how writing is taught and how writing teachers are educated and trained, I think a more appropriate title for it would have been “Bad Ideas About Writing Instruction,” rather than “Bad Ideas About Writing Teachers.” (This categorization discrepancy is something we mention in the introduction.) The pieces in this chapter packed a generous heap of information about how writing teachers do their work and what goals they value, providing the intended audience (the public) with helpful insights about these values and what is required to fulfill them.

The public may be a broad audience, but I think this chapter should especially appeal to those who interact with or influence the working conditions of writing instructors in some way: high school and college administrators, current and potential students, policymakers, and other educators (such as those who teach and train new secondary teachers). Kahn’s essay even went so far as to directly address future college students and their guardians by suggesting that their college search criteria should include the staffing and support of writing instructors. As we wonder in the introduction to our review, the question remains to what extent public audiences will access this text. For now, it seems we must keep this useful text in mind when our colleagues outside of English studies speak to us of their work.