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My problem with the headline “It’s not teacher, but method that matters.” #nwp

May 17, 2011

Funny thing is that I wholeheartedly embrace the idea that Cathy Davidson and others are promoting: interactive teaching methods are superior to the lecture model. I mean, heck, my “tribe” the National Writing Project (NWP) has promoted workshop, inquiry-based teaching for some time (and gotten great results). So why does the Yahoo News headline bug me? Does it bug you?

Well, first, it is dehumanizing. We’re being told the human being involved doesn’t matter, just the method. I say B.S. Why dichotomize this issue? Why would you do that? Of course the teacher matters. Of course the method matters as well. How about this for a headline:

T.A. Better Teacher than Highly Rated Veteran Professor

Not being far removed from the rank of T.A., that’s a headline I can really get behind. After all, doesn’t the T.A. who introduced and effectively executed the method deserve a little credit here? Does the person who wrote the article think interactive teaching is easier than lecture?!? On the contrary, boring lecture is much easier than facilitating an interactive learning experience. That’s what the NWP Summer Institutes held at over 200 sites throughout the U.S. spend most of their time doing: training teachers to teach writing via proven interactive practices.

Though the method is important, the teachers are the catalyst. If that be the case, why would someone put up a headline that pits teachers against method? Why not simply say “Interactive Method better than Lecture model.” Well, after typing that lame headline, I guess I see why. That headline is boring, and we know headlines are all about catching people’s attention. But I wonder if the headline is effective because it feeds into the anti-teacher sentiment sweeping our country? Stupid teachers don’t matter. Heck, all we need is TA’s and a little technology.

The NWP’s model is “teachers teaching teachers.” Though we’re passing on a powerful method, we’re doing it from one human being to another. We’re interacting eyeball-to-eyeball and working out the kinks together. As a listening partner at our Summer Institute, I will sit down with several of our teachers this summer and help them develop a strong writing workshop to share with their peers, which many of them will then take to their classrooms next fall. Don’t tell me teachers don’t matter. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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