Lifting Ourselves by our Own Bootstraps: Reading and Writing as Tools for Professional Development
It takes more than a good grasp of grammar to teach students the true power of writing, and this probably starts with the habit of reading, and, only a good reader can become a good writer. As a matter of fact, students need the inspiration to read regularly and to become avid readers. Probably teachers are the best source of inspiration for students to be contagious to reading. So, how can teachers motivate students is by becoming avid readers themselves, and writing and sharing what they read with their students (and colleagues). To this end, this write-up teases out the nuances related to reading and writing habits among teachers and its effect in their personal and professional lives, and importantly, how it affects their classroom performances.
Read! But, Why?
The answer to why we should read is very simple; because “there is so much to learn…from history, from what is going on at the frontiers of science, and from contemporary studies of human behaviour” (Ehrlic & Fu, 2015, p.1). Reading is a good pastime, but for language teachers, it holds even more importance. Reading is a means for professional and personal development.
Notably, if second language teacher does not read or write anything apart from the course book, syllabi, curriculum and a few news on newspaper, he/she has to understand that they are like a professor of business who never worked in business. Indeed, teachers who do not read or write are merely alliterate; i.e. having cognitive ability to read and write but do not do them.
Other Benefits of Reading
Reading expands the knowledge horizon and equips you with the worldview, which is very important for rich discussion in the class. Only by reading, a teacher can realize how a student feels while reading in a second language. Reading a good book presents with multiple interpretations which is essential in critical thinking and learning. More than that, reading can make you a better person as a teacher as you gain enhanced understandings of the world around you.
Also, there are other benefits of reading. It improves your verbal abilities and improves your focus and concentration. As reading is engaging and needs you be seated for hours at a place, it also makes you patient. Not only that, you become more creative, and you will become smarter. Very importantly, according to ABC News, reading increases the connectivity in the brain, giving your cerebral cortex a work-out.
My personal experiences confirm that reading gives meaning to our lives. It makes us optimistic. Reading gives us company and consolation. It helps us reduce stress. Reading makes you more empathetic towards your students, and people around you.
Many of you might have read (or at least heard of) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. When I read it the first time, I was a lower secondary level teacher (I read it because my students asked me what I thought about it), but when I completed reading it the second or third time, I was captivated by how Mary Shelley talks about the realities of the lives, our desires and our endeavors to experiment with the order of the nature.
You might still ask why to take the pain. There is a reason to it. To quote Applegate and Applegate (2004), “A large portion of students are at the risk of becoming alliterate; that is, they choose not read anything despite having cognitive abilities to do so”. It is only teachers who can rescue students from alliteracy. For this, the teachers themselves have to set an example by becoming avid readers.
Read! But, What?
That will bring us to the question what to read. You can read anything, to begin with. By anything, I mean fiction or non-fiction. If you are not used to reading, my suggestion is to start with the abridged version of children’s classics and stories; they are easy to follow and understand. When you become habituated, you will know what your choices are, who your favourite authors are, and you can pick your copy from the shelf as you wish.
In a nutshell, it is only after reading a lot, you start feeling the needs to write. You traverse the same path as the Richard Wright talks about in his story “The Library Card”. Reading sometimes buoys you up and at other times makes you feel down, and can bring change in your worldview. For an example, I felt very sad sorry for George Mallory (Acclaimed British Explorer and Mountaineer) when I completed reading “The Paths of Glory” by Jeffrey Archer and made me write a piece on who might have conquered the Everest first, Mallory or Hillary.
Now, in the next section, I shall discuss how writing is important for teachers of English, in an EFL/ESL context.
Writing! Not My Cup of Tea.
Writing is probably the most difficult language skill as it requires orchestration of different skills, time and effort. It involves a lot of thought process. Writing becomes even more effortful if the language that we are writing in is a second language (Kormos, 2012).
Among different kinds of writing by teachers, writing for publication is probably the hardest as teachers have long working hours, tiring days, and they cannot find time and space to write for publication. However, it should be noted that writing for publication is now considered as a measuring rod of your skills and knowledge for promotion, a better job, scholarship and grants. Writing is widely accepted as an alternative tool for professional development (Rather & Okan, 2015). Hence, there is no alternative to writing. Actually, those who are successful in the field of teaching are so because they read and WRITE unremittingly!
Because writing is a follow-up to reading, writing cannot be developed alone if you do not read. In fact, writing is like a physical activity – the more you do it, the more comfortable it feels, so if one wants to develop this set of skills in a second/foreign language, one has to continue doing it.
The first thing to do to overcome the inhibition to writing is to consider your writing is your personal story written to inform friends of your success and your good work in your classroom. Also, as Richard and Lockhart (1996) argue, you can think that as insiders you are letting the world know your point of view of your own practice. They further suggest that you can start writing by questioning your own classroom practice – reflect on how successful your lessons were and what contributed to the success or failure of your lesson. Such writing aids your professional learning as it promotes ownership, agency and authority in your profession.
My personal experiences suggest that you can begin by writing diary entries of your classroom, and other notable experiences in the classroom. As the digital world provides so many options these days, you can publish those things immediately on your personal web space. As you become comfortable with writing and publishing on the blog, you can move on to next step of writing, i.e. writing for publication.
Why Teachers Should Read and Write?
Based on my personal experience, it is necessary to read and write regularly. There are multiple benefits of it. As argued above, reading and writing are tools for your personal and professional development. I feel, there are other short-term benefits of reading and writing. The first of them is that writing can function as natural andormorphine to heal your stress. Teaching is a pressure job and has a tight schedule and time pressure, and this causes the release of the stress-related hormone. To reduce such hormone and to heal yourself, you need to read and write; they can be an essential survival tool!
Secondly, by reading and writing continuously, you become more creative. As you come across different viewpoints, newer level of arguments, and new findings, it gives you the impetus to search for new title and subject matter to read and write on. You become more active cognitively as you are involved in an active thinking process.
Thirdly, you are never short of ideas, and you can always involve your students, peers and colleagues in longer and engaging discussions by talking about the recent book that you have read, by discussing the worldview of different authors and findings of recent research.
Last of all, when your writing gets published and is read by others, you gain the greatest satisfaction that you can think of as a teacher.
So, let’s keep reading and writing, teachers.
Applegate, A. J. & Applegate, M. D. (2004). The Peter effect: Reading habits and attitudes of preservice teachers. International Reading Association, 554-563.
Ehrlic, T. & Fu, E. (2015). Why read fiction? Forbes/Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ehrlihfu/2015/06/14/why-read-fiction
Kormos, J. (2012). The role of individual differences in L2 writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 21, 390 – 403.
Rather, S. & Zuhal, O. (2015). Writing for publication as a tool in teacher development. ELT Journal 69(4), 363-372.
Richards, J. C. & Lockhart, C. (1996). Reflective teaching in second language classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press.
(*Mr. Suman Laudari is a life member of NELTA and a PhD scholar at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia . His research interests are motivation in educational technology, second language learning, planning and task performance, and TBLT.)