I really like to write. So much so that I enjoy encouraging, through teaching, others to write as well. This is one of the reasons that my current gig is so rewarding. It affords me the opportunity to work with students to help them become better writers. I like to think my job is simple: make my kids better writers. Yet, from time to time, I run into different aspects of education that make my job more difficult.

Most recently, I’ve been dealing with a writing assignment that asked the students to discuss a memorable meal and what made it so memorable. Furthermore, the students are tasked with relating this meal to the larger concept of the “human experience” as it connects to food and food rituals. Sure, it’s asking a lot but it’s manageable. All I have to do is make sure my students describe the meal in such a way that they can relate it to a larger concept, right? It’s your basic personal essay.

Not so fast.

The teacher wants the students to have a fully formed thesis and use at least one source from the readings she has given them, which were all personal essays. How is that possible if she also wants them to write a personal story about a meal? The two forms the teacher is asking for are not usually brought together in an essay. In fact, a personal essay doesn’t even have to have  a point, much less a thesis.

As a teacher, you can’t do this to your students. You need to be clear about you assignment and make sure that clarity is transferred to your students.  Students naturally try to mimic the forms of writing they have most readily available. In this case, personal essays. If this teacher wanted the students to write a more formal essay, she should have given them examples of formal essays.

As a tutor, I find that I am often at odds with teachers because of poor wording or unclear expectations they have on their various assignments. In order to help my students, I have to decipher what a teacher wants and then relay it to my students. It’s an unnecessary step that slows down the writing process and lowers the amount of help I can deliver.

Teachers, please be as clear as possible when it comes to your assignments. Create rubrics, if necessary, so that your students will know and understand exactly what is expected of them. Making them have to interpret or, worse, guess what you’re looking for will only end with you being dissatisfied with their work.