It has been apparent to me for a while - and, because of a comment on my last post, I decided to write about - the schism in the core belief of ELA teachers. Some of us look at ourselves as teachers of literature; some of us look at ourselves as teachers of language.
Teachers of literature are primarily concerned about teaching students about literature - the reading of it, the analyzing of it, and the appreciation of it. Their units are focused around works of literature - usually novels or plays, but often groups of short stories. Any writing in the units typically surround the work of literature that is read - most commonly a paper analyzing the book, but other types of writing assignments are common. These teachers are most commonly found in the high schools and model their classrooms after college literature classes.
Teachers of language are primarily concerned about teaching students about how to read and write the English language better - in all its forms. Their units focus on a variety of things - genres of writing, themes, works of literature, specific reading/writing skills, and many others. The goal, though, is always the same - improve students' reading and writing abilities. These teachers are most often found in the middle school.
These divisions are not concrete. In other words, teachers of literature also focus on helping students to read and write better - they do it through literature. Teachers of language also want to help students read, analyze, and appreciate literature - but they also focus on other types of reading and writing.
This schism divides our discourse about our profession. When I discuss choice, I'm coming from the point of the view of a teacher of language - I want students to read and write better and I believe they can do so through any book of their choice. But, when teachers say that choice is "fine and dandy" but what about these great books that they should read, they are coming at the discourse from the vantage point of a teacher of literature.
There is no doubt that we need both sorts of teachers. But, I fear that we are not doing our jobs in the way that is most beneficial for our students. I believe that it is a worthwhile endeavor to teach students about literature. It helps them understand the world - past, present, and future. At the same time, in an ever changing world, one that demands the most from its workers, I worry that students are not getting enough experience with all types of reading and writing.
So, what are we to do? I propose that both types of teachers are needed. We need to rethink how students receive instruction. In secondary education, we need one course for literature and one for language skills. It does not have to be one or the other. The literature course can be paired with a history course, but not necessarily. The language course would work with all classes - helping students navigate the reading and writing that occurs in the content areas and truly prepares them to be talented readers and writers.