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Tips for New Teachers #3: A Word in Praise of Textbooks

posted: 5.19.11 by Andrea Lunsford

When I began teaching at Hillsborough Community College in the late 1960s, I learned right away that while I knew a good bit about literature and could share that knowledge with students, I had little sense of how to teach writing.  Almost none at all.  On reflection, I realized that I had been exempted from the writing course offered at my university and that I had never, ever gotten any real instruction in writing from my professors:  they assigned writing, but they surely didn’t teach it. I remember near-panic setting in as I thought about what I would do in my writing class….

Since I desperately wanted to do a good job, I began looking for resources to help me. I spent evenings and weekends in the library – and one evening I stumbled on a collection of textbooks on writing.  I don’t remember the names of the books at this long remove, but I found one that took students carefully through the process of writing.  I took it home and later ordered a copy of my own—and I really, really studied that textbook.  I did the assignments in it as well as all the exercises, and I then began to teach lessons based on what I had learned.  For the next year or so, that textbook was my teacher, guiding me in structuring assignments and classroom activities for my students.  I remember thinking of it as a dear, dear friend.  Several years later, I got a copy of Edward P. J. Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, and for many years to come that textbook was with me through thick and thin.  Eventually, I loosened my grip on these textbooks, as I grew more experienced and as I began to do research of my own about student writing and learning.

Today I still use textbooks—and I’ve written several myself, ones I hope are helping some new teachers like that book so many decades ago helped me.  I think of good textbooks, then, as teachers’ companions—and especially so for new teachers.  If you are just beginning your career, you could do a lot worse than making friends with several good textbooks!

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Categories: Teaching Advice
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