Writing Teacher Contract

This is what works for me, and I think it will work for you:

1. I won’t read your first draft.  I don’t ask anyone to read mine.  As  Aaron Neville would say, “Baby, my time is too expensive.”  I’ll give you points for those first few paragraphs, and then send you off to write more.  Tricking the ego into doing the annoying repetitive work is critical to human progress.  That’s why I get a special delicious coffee drink before I confront that stack of grading.

2. I will write “good” on your paper somewhere, even if I have to keep rub my temples and wail like Job to come up with anything that is even slightly good about it.  You are where you are, and everybody needs a warm-up of encouragement before they get suggestions.  (Exception: you clearly, clearly threw the assignment, and I know you well enough to know that.)

3. You want love?  Show me love.  The more you work, the more I’ll work for you.  I’ll give you several opportunities to hand in early drafts, and if you do it, I’ll read it immediately, even if the class is only sort of on task.  It’s more important to give you timely, thoughtful feedback– even one minute of it– than to yank the yahoos back.  The earlier you get pointed in the right direction, the better off you’ll be.  And I like to reward slow and steady.  It works.

3. I will only consider your ideas in your early drafts.  If your ideas are lame, or don’t make sense, no one cares about the other stuff.  I don’t need to correct grammar on student papers to feel smart.  I have the New York Times crossword for that.

4. I won’t tell you a hundred things to fix.  I won’t fix the same thing ten times if you did it ten times.  I did not go to college to do the same work Spellcheck can do.  And four suggestions are more likely to be absorbed than a dozen.

5. I won’t sit and ponder your work for hours.  (In the real world, no one will, unless they’re trying to sleep with you or get added to your will, or until you’re famous.)  I’m a great skimmer, so if I don’t quickly get what you’re saying, it’s almost always because you didn’t say it very well.

6. I will spend way more time offering suggestions than evaluating (in edspeak, formative rather than summative).  You getting a number grade does little to improve your writing.  If you’re skillful, it makes you arrogant.  If you suck, it just discourages you.

7. There will be time in class to work, especially at the beginning.  A shop teacher doesn’t assign students to build birdhouses at home. If you are learning a process, you need help while you are doing it, not just when you are done.

8. As much as possible, I’ll write in the margins, underline and circle, rather than cross out or otherwise deface your work.

9. I will write with the pen that is most convenient for me.  Red shows up better because you didn’t write in red.  No one did.  If having red ink on your work strikes you as traumatic, then get down on your knees and thank God that you’ve had such a charmed life.

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