123419654_11nAs regular readers know, my father recently died, and as I write this, I am one fitful sleep from driving 18 hours to attend the funeral, which will be held on Saturday, the 18th.  Because I’ll be traveling when I’m usually writing my weekly education article, I thought it appropriate to reprint this article, if for no reason other than to give Bookworm the credit and notice she so richly deserves.  I’ll be back with original articles next week.

My favorite Bookworm has, once again, taken teachers of the mother tongue (no, English, not Latin) to task.  Blessedly, she has been kind enough to exempt me from this wretched company.  She writes:

Ever since my kids hit public school, I go through this every single Fall — “this” being the discovery that their English teachers are often border-line illiterate.  I know that there are wonderful, literate English teachers out there (Mike McDaniel springs instantly to mind)[I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy!], but my children haven’t been lucky enough to get one.  Without exception, the materials that the teachers send home are rife with grammatical errors.  I admit I’m a bit more punctilious than most when it comes to things such as split infinitives, but these are people — no, not people, but English teachers for Gawd’s sake — who can’t even figure out subject/verb or subject/pronoun agreement.

These are interesting, and frankly, slightly painful, observations.  It has been my experience that English teachers, as a class (slight pun), tend to be literate and careful in their writing and speaking, much more so than the teachers of other disciplines.  Indeed, I’ve noticed a few exceptions to this general rule, but most of those have been coach-teachers.  On one hand, I expect a great deal of all teachers.  On the other, coaches are in the business of coaching, and they teach because that’s what’s necessary to allow them to do what they really want to do.  Not that this excuses them for failing to teach the curriculum or substituting movies that have little or nothing to do with the curriculum when they happen to be present.  No, I’m not annoyed by such people.  Why do you ask?

Now she’s really coming after me:

(I realize that there are invariably mistakes in my blog posts but, without exception, these mistakes are typos because I tend to slam these things out while in the midst of several other tasks.  The teachers, on the other hand, recycle these hand-outs year after year, so one would think that they’d eventually get them right.)

Gentle readers, I hope you understand what I have to do to provide these articles, and take at least a bit of pity on me when I make a typo–probably my most frequent mistake–or fail in proofreading.  I explain, you see, to my students that they must put time between finishing an essay and proofreading it.  If we do not, the brain will trick us into seeing what we think we wrote rather than seeing the ink that actually stained the page.  That’s why when a teacher hands back a bleeding paper, we can easily see our mistakes.  What’s my point?  I’m getting there…

Particularly during the school year, my time for writing is brief.  Not only am I reading and grading hundreds–actually–of papers each and every week, I sing in two choirs (one actually pays me!), struggle to exercise enough, absolutely spend adequate time with my wife, and otherwise try to have a life, which occasionally includes a bit of sleep.  In fact, the only reason I can write as much as I do is I write very quickly, and I’m able to compose mentally.  When I sit down at the computer, most of my articles are already in my head; I just have to transfer them from the brain to the screen.

But all of this means I don’t always have time to take my own advice.  So I try, really hard, to write well and to be a paragon of grammatical rectitude, but damn, it’s hard to be perfect!  Have pity on me?

And I know I suffer from excess comma disease.  Fellow English teachers are unsure, whether, a cure, is, possible.  Darn.

So why is Bookworm so exercised?

I just printed an assignment sheet for my high school freshman and it made me extraordinarily grumpy.  For starters, it’s poorly formatted, which bugs the word processor in me.  That’s just cosmetic, though.  I can even forgive the fact that the teacher pompously refers to himself in the third person.  Bookworm understands how that goes.  But the kicker is that it’s unintelligible.  The document has no organizing principle, it’s dotted with sentence fragments, and it’s impossible to understand what point the teacher is making.  It’s also impossible to understand what he’s asking from the students.

Oh dear.  That would make me grumpy too.  Referring to oneself in the third person is a bizarre affectation.  I worked for a police department that forced officers to do just that.  “This officer” did this, or “Detective McDaniel” did that.  It took me years to convince them it was perfectly acceptable to write in first person.  When you’re a cop with an English degree, they really don’t like to hear about it.

I’m very serious about formatting.  Every teacher should regularly review their work to ensure it’s clear and concise and instantly understandable.  This is particularly true for handouts that have had the opportunity to go through several revisions (I tend to redo all of them in one way or another every year). I can’t imagine sending home something like that for parents to read.

Funny, but horrifying story:  School districts are always big on mottos, or at least school administrators are.  Teachers tend to be interested in actually doing the work.  In any case, I know of a school district that sent out the school motto on every child’s report card, and it was something like this:

“The Smithville School District is a modul of educational excellence.”

The colleague that told me about it was–you guessed it–an English teacher, who promptly brought it to the attention of the powers that be.  And they corrected it the next time report cards went out.  The new version read:

“The Smithville School District is a model of ecucational excellence.”

I don’t know if they eventually gave up.  But Bookworm doesn’t:

My children know I’m always willing to help them with English and history.  What I will not do for them, though, is decipher an accredited teacher’s marginally-literate maundering.

(Incidentally, this goes a long way to explaining the problem — English teachers are more interested in smut than in the English language.)

OH DEAR! I often observe that the only reason we can get away with teaching Shakespeare is that most people don’t understand all of the sexual references in the English of the late 1500s/early 1600s.  But the example provided by Bookworm is beyond the pale.  I’ve never worked anywhere that sort of thing would be tolerated by English teachers or anyone else.  But I know beyond any doubt that some communities would find such explicit sexuality not only acceptable, but indicative of all of the social pathologies so beloved of the left–in a very positive way (by their lights).

Of course, we’re getting into the argument about the traditional western canon versus modern, culturally diverse literature.  I’ll write more on that in the future, but for now, rest assured gentle readers, that I’ll sneak in as much Shakespeare and the other classics as cramming for mandatory high stakes tests will allow.

I suppose the point is that all English teachers–I hope most–are not at all like the wise and steadfast Bookworm has described.  Where they proliferate, it is the duty of parents to do what is necessary to correct them, and if they will not be corrected, to see that they have the opportunity to explore other career opportunities requiring less attention to detail.  It’s little understood that school administrators–most–pay attention to concerned and determined parents where they would ignore the same arguments and concerns from teachers.  They’re just teachers; what the hell do they know?

Good teachers really do wish parents would make those arguments more often, and I thank Bookworm for the inspiration to present a weak defense–or at least something of an explanation–of my brethren and sisteren.