Five Things English Teachers Should Teach their Students

Ah, high school English class: it’s the place where you first read Shakespeare, learned the five-paragraph essay format, and wrote those annual research papers. You might even remember it as the class you always somehow had summer homework for, too.

While English class can be incredibly rewarding, there’s a few things I wish English teachers taught me while I was in high school (and even college to an extent). After all, English is an incredibly valuable subject, especially since people don’t seem to focus on creating good writing in a world of texting.

Here’s five things I wish English teachers taught me in school.

There is a tone in your writing, and you can control it

One thing I wish English teachers taught more often is tone. After all, the piece you’re writing will be read by others, so your goal is to have the reader understand what your emotional intent is.

Think about this: have you ever felt anger after reading a blunt, quick e-mail response? We attach emotion to words even if there isn’t any intended emotion behind them. That means as a writer, you need to be aware what the perceived tone of your writing is at all times.

Teachers try to indirectly say this by telling you the lines of your poem don’t carry much weight, or that they felt you wrote a paragraph in your argumentative essay with too much emotion. However, teachers rarely give their students the tools they need to understand and improve upon their existing tone.

How to improve your tone

The easiest way to change the tone of your writing is looking at your words and phrases individually. Pay attention to your language and what kind of message your words might convey. Other items such as punctuation, bolded words, and how you begin your work also contribute to the tone.

If you’re unsure how people will interpret your tone, the adjectives you choose can give you a hint. “The fearless tiger sat in the cage” is much different than “The fuzzy tiger sat in the cage” because the reader pictures two very different tigers.

Spend a few minutes going over the most recent paragraph you wrote. Pick apart the words you chose, and see if there might be a better one to use. You’ll soon develop your tone in the style you need.

English doesn’t lead to useless careers

A big part of why students don’t care about English is they don’t see valuable career options. To high schoolers, math can lead to jobs in stem and statistics; science can lead to jobs as a doctor or researcher; and history can lead to jobs as a teacher, historian, or museum director.

English? You’re probably gonna starve.

Maybe English teachers don’t teach this because some of them don’t like their jobs (I hope not!) or don’t feel that English pays well. However, what they fail to understand is how English has evolved over the years and what industries good writing skills can be applied to. Many English teachers, especially the older ones, still think that the job opportunities for their field are the same as they were years ago.

However, students who choose to master writing or pair up writing with a broader skill set have so much opportunity! Writing is becoming a lost art, so employers are seeking for those who can write and do it well. Here’s some careers you need good writing skills for:

  • Writing/English Teacher
  • Social Media/Content Marketer
  • Journalist/Reporter
  • Public Relations Manager
  • Publishing Agent
  • Technical Writer
  • Blogger
  • Script Writer
  • Human Resources coordinator
  • Librarian
  • Lawyer
  • Grant Writer
  • Website Development
  • Author
  • Teaching English as a Second Language
  • Fundraiser

Now of course some of these jobs will pay more or less, but this is a sizable list of possible career paths for students who enjoy writing. If teachers emphasized the importance of possessing good writing skills, then more students might think about honing their craft to help them in the future.

How History and Events Influence Writing

One thing that’s lost in English class is the fact that history is intertwined with the writing of each era. This happens in virtually every work because authors want to comment upon the most recent events happening around them.

Think about how people today write stories, blog posts, and articles about things that matter to them. Themes in books might be influenced by the real world, whether it’s set in a fictional setting or not. They even say you can tell what era a book was written in based on the contents.

However, sometimes the history portion of these works gets lost in the core curriculum because teachers focus on the most common points. For example, every literature class covers big topics such as slavery or the American revolution. Yet these works of literature tend to dive culturally deeper into their time periods. Topics such as gender roles, everyday life, the economy, and religious beliefs play a huge role in how an author comments about the world.

Of all the teachers I had in high school, only one of them had a history lesson to pair alongside every work. I think that if students had more of this, then they’d understand and appreciate literature more than they do now. It’s important for English teachers to provide a broader perspective so students can appreciate more of the author’s details.

There are different writing formats

If you grew up in America, you probably learned the MLA style format. Things such as  writing in topical paragraphs and having a formal citation guide are all part of MLA.

However, there’s plenty of other writing styles that are more commonly used in the writing world. Styles such as Chicago, APA, and AP are all used throughout the publication world more often than MLA. MLA is typically reserved for academic work, so K-12 focuses heavily on this format. It’s rare that a district or teacher will take initiative to teach these other formats if it isn’t required in the curriculum.

This forces students to have to learn these writing formats on their own when they could’ve learned these in school. Unfortunately, parents unfamiliar with professional writing might not know about the different formats (because they also didn’t learn them in school) and thus won’t advocate for them to be added into the core. This causes a slippery slope of people who don’t know the formats.

A core part of a child’s education should revolve around teaching them necessarily skills, and when it comes to writing, that means learning formats. I know I wish I had guidance to learn these styles, but I’m thankful that there’s plenty of online resources to help me when I run into a road block.

The Actual Poem Meaning vs. Interpretative Parts

The fact that poetry is interpretive is something that’s heavily focused on in English class. Understanding the meaning behind the lines often takes a bulk of a class’ time.

However, English teachers don’t do a good job of teaching that every poem still has a set of facts. There are things the words aren’t saying, and thus those parts of the lines should not be interpretive. Therefore, English teachers should teach students to look for the facts before having students write a full interpretation.

Poetry can be one of the most difficult subjects for students to learn and teachers to teach. After all, older poems are written in a style that students might not be used to, and it takes time to learn how to read different styles. However, English teachers should still walk their students through the process to help students understand what each poem is saying. This will help build their critical thinking skills because their analysis will be based on the poem’s finer details.

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