Want to foster great writ­ing? Sup­port teach­ers.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - THE BIBLIORACL­E - By John Warner John Warner is the au­thor of “Tough Day for the Army.” Twit­ter @bib­lio­r­a­cle

I spend a fair amount of time wor­ry­ing about whether the things I love and cher­ish will con­tinue to be around, whether they will re­main vi­tal.

Will the Cubs main­tain their divi­sion lead and go on to an­other World Se­ries? Will we stop cook­ing the planet in time to keep my house above wa­ter and the air we breathe com­pat­i­ble with life?

Will we fig­ure out how to make col­lege af­ford­able for any­one qual­i­fied to go? Will great books con­tinue to be avail­able to read­ers, sold at won­der­ful book­stores? Will sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions of young peo­ple con­tinue to read those books with as much plea­sure as I’ve had?

Which brings me to the thing I’m most wor­ried about this week: The dam­age we’ve done to teach­ers and their pro­fes­sion. A re­cently re­leased sur­vey by PDK In­ter­na­tional, a non­profit as­so­ci­a­tion for ed­u­ca­tors, found that for the first time in the sur­vey’s nearly 50-year his­tory, a ma­jor­ity of par­ents (54 per­cent) would not want their chil­dren to be­come school­teach­ers.

It’s not hard to see why par­ents would feel that way. A re­port by the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute finds that teacher pay lags 18.7 per­cent be­hind those with sim­i­lar ed­u­ca­tion. For three pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions in a row, fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy has been aligned around es­tab­lish­ing “test and pun­ish” poli­cies, which have stripped teach­ers of their au­ton­omy and sent them chas­ing one ini­tia­tive after an­other.

That cam­paign served to erode pub­lic trust in teach­ers through no fault of their own.

Teach­ers cre­ate read­ers and, by ex­ten­sion, writ­ers. I know this, be­cause I ex­pe­ri­enced it as a child at Green­briar School in North­brook.

I was an ea­ger reader be­fore en­ter­ing school, but it was my teach­ers who helped to foster my nascent in­ter­est into a life­long pas­sion and ul­ti­mately my av­o­ca­tion. Most of what I’ve learned about writ­ing I ex­pe­ri­enced in grade school, which is why I’ve ded­i­cated a forth­com­ing book — “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Para­graph Es­say and Other Ne­ces­si­ties” — to those teach­ers.

It was in school where I learned that writ­ing is done for the ben­e­fit of read­ers, that we must write with pur­pose and clar­ity. In sixth grade, once I’d run out of text­books, I was al­lowed the free­dom to ex­plore what­ever the li­brary held. I even did my first teach­ing, tu­tor­ing first graders on their read­ing.

My teach­ers be­lieved me ca­pable of learn­ing, and by and large, trusted me to fol­low my own in­ter­ests. They praised me when I was be­ing clever and gen­tly guided me when clev­er­ness lapsed into some­thing closer to stu­pid­ity.

They em­pow­ered me.

It’s just not clear to me how we get any­where with­out teach­ing be­ing a de­sir­able, sus­tain­able pro­fes­sion — one able to re­cruit bright new tal­ent, one where teach­ers are sup­ported and trusted as the pro­fes­sion­als they are.

With­out teach­ers, we will not have the next gen­er­a­tion of read­ers, of writ­ers. What a ter­ri­ble thought.


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