Grumble, grumble, grumble, English teachers, Grumble

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), 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.

(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.)

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.

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.)

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  • Caped Crusader

    If it would not cause you problems, or blow your cover, print a few of the more outrageous examples. Would make for “light” and humorous reading.

  • Charles Martel

    Book, the chilling thing here is that you’re reporting from Marin County, which supposedly has some of the best public schools in the country. I suppose, like almost everything else these days, “best” is located somewhere on a dismal curve. 

  • Michael Adams

    Don’t y’all know, grammar and clarity of thought are elitist. (Probably even raaacist)

  • 11B40

    I am similarly but differently afflicted.  Having spent much of my worklife in the printing industry, I am now suffering, thanks to Apple Computer and its ilk, with a severe case of PTSD, Poor Typography Stress Disorder, that is. I think that it is well past the time that the government take serious action in this regard. Just because someone can afford a bit of software is no reason for them to be allowed to afflict their perfidy on the eyes and brains and emotions of their intellectual superiors. Our benevolent and far seeing state should set up a kind of permitting and licensing process to require all individuals living within five thousand feet of a computer to learn all about typography (something I managed to do in a little less than 23 years) before allowing them to take possession of either computers or software with the capability to inflict such permanent emotional damage. 
    P.S.  Although I am not now, nor never have been an English teacher, I’ve tried my best to do Bookworm no further permanent damage, either rhetorically, grammatically, or typographically.  The poor woman has suffered enough already.

  • jj

    This is a complaint you mention every year, seemingly.  I’ve encountered so many illiterate English teachers myself, I’m in no doubt of its truth.  I don’t know what there is to be done about it, though.  With no kids in the system, I have the freedom to ask principals and school district superintendents rather direct questions about how come their English teachers are so often illiterate, and you know this is a question I haven’t kept to myself.  (There is some splendid videotape somewhere of a 1997 school board meeting in Bedford, New York, of me discussing this very point with the school board boss.  He called my remarks ‘unconscionable.’  I suggested neither he nor the head of his English department could spell ‘unconscionable,’ and challenged him to do it, on the spot.  I heard about this from a lot of folks the next day, too: the board meeting was, as they all were, on local cable.  I should probably obtain a copy of this, I bet it still exists.)  But  I could (and can) do it because there’s nothing they can do to me.  Your position is somewhat different, and they can take it out on your kids.  And they would, too.  I guess you grit your teeth, bear it, and do your best to undo what damage the ‘teachers’ have done in class every day.
    And tell us about it, of course.  I’ll cheerfully send a daily email to your local paper, and your school board, pointing out the teachers’ offenses against the English language.  Cheerfully.  Gleefully, in fact!

  • DL Sly

    Bookworm, you could do as I have done at four of the five schools the VES has been enrolled in during our whirlwind tour of the US compliments of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children:  correct it in red ink and send it back.  One such letter from the district (in CA, go fig, huh?) was so covered in red ink that the secretary at the VES’ school placed that particular letter on top of the rest so that the district secretary couldn’t miss it when they opened the packet.  It worked.  The next letter had every single error corrected.
    Course, I should probably admit to the fact that it gave me more than a slightly perverse thrill to be able to embarrass those schools after having to deal with all the other crap they threw at the VES with their idiotic rules, regulations and just plain stupid crap.  But then, y’all probably knew that already.  (No comment or pixelated form of vehement agreement from you is necessary, Ymar. 0>;~})

  • Caped Crusader

    PC dogma requires suffering fools gladly, this is merely the fruition of that reality. Is there one English teacher in America who could compose any document as beautifully written, and with such clear eloquence, as those of our founding documents written by those hated old white Europeans of the eighteenth century?

  • lee

    I had to fill out a form that was done in Word–and not even as a FORM in Word! Just a lot of underline tabs! Oy gevalt! I TOTALLY redid the form both as a Word Form and as a Acrobat Form (Using Livecycle so it can actually be filled out on a computer, calculate the total credits, AND be signed electronically!) and sent them back both of the forms.
    It’s a snippy bunch of P.I.T.A. bureaucrats who run the office of some professional organization. The form was for “self-reporting” one’s continuing education requirements. (Which are a whole ‘nother P.I.T.A. to deal with. I mean, which with to deal. ) Anyhoo… I heard NOTHING back from them. Not even a semi=polite thank you email. The next reporting cycle, they had a WHOLE NEW FORM, not one of mine. But maybe I at least gave them a kick in the pants to get a half-way decent form out there!

  • JKB

    I found this a year or so ago.  It is a dressing down provided to a “Modern Novelist” who suggested that grammar instruction was no longer needed.  It is not only an excellent argument for grammar instruction, but, a delightful example of the quality of writing that used to come from a university professor.  A level of quality rare indeed from our purportedly “educated” betters of this day:
    My Dear modern Novelist:
    You have recently given pleasure to the public by picturing what you would do if you were a teacher of English.  Your sketch is racy, persuasive and true to life.

    Yet your patent truthfulness will be misunderstood in the strangest way–a way which a novelist, unaccustomed to the perverting power of literal minds, would never suspect.  Some thousands of teachers and superintendents and pedagogical experts will apply your merriment to the whole body of actual teachers in actual schools; they will pass on to one another the glad message that M. N. advises all teachers to discard grammar in all schools.

  • March Hare

    Based solely on my personal experience, if you want children to learn to love the English language, hire someone from Ireland or Wales.  Maybe Scotland.  But a culture with a tradition of storytelling and where one learned the rules thoroughly before being allowed to break them!
    DS#1 was in Honors English.  At Parent Night, the teacher proclaimed she “didn’t teach grammar because by now all the kids knew it.”  One of the fathers was from India was outraged and challenged her.  She was actually shocked that anyone would question her syllabus!  And even more so that the rest of the parents agreed with him.  Must have been her first year teaching an Honors class.

  • Gringo

    March Hare
    DS#1 was in Honors English.  At Parent Night, the teacher proclaimed she “didn’t teach grammar because by now all the kids knew it.”  One of the fathers was from India was outraged and challenged her.  She was actually shocked that anyone would question her syllabus!  And even more so that the rest of the parents agreed with him.
    I don’t know what grade this referred to. By the time I had finished the 8th grade, I had a very thorough grounding in grammar and in diagramming sentences. I didn’t need any grammar instruction in high school- nor did I receive any. But this was decades ago. Nowadays I doubt that students have been given as good instruction in grammar and diagramming sentences as I got.
    With one exception, I had very bright, literate English teachers in high school. Two of them later got their Ph.Ds. – not in Edumacation but in Linguistics and in Shakespeare. A third had proven his intellectual capabilities, courtesy of the US Army, by completing  a course in Chinese at the Yale Language Institute. He then  applied his knowledge of Chinese by  translating Chinese pilot chatter during the Korean War.
    In spite of  having capable instructors, I hated English courses in high school. I loved reading literature before high school, but high school English turned it into a chore. I did not like the Junior Literary Critic model being forced upon me. I would have preferred writing essays on ANYTHING but literature.

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  • Ymarsakar

    Dl Sly, I had a perfectly agreeable time with my English teachers. So I’m absolutely neutral in this context. I produced a college de-construction essay on Tyger, Tyger, which I thought was a good 5x rewrite and so did the instructor. My born talents were more geared towards mathematics, but I found I came to dislike such logick more and more as I grew older.
    English, communication, psychology, and such topics were things I became more interested in. Which is ironic, given that just 5 years before then, my English was 30 to my Math’s 70. It flipped to 60/40 later in resource flow.
    It wasn’t until engineering class introduced me to the concept of binary, trinary, hexadecimal, decimal systems of mathematical thought that I truly became capable of understanding what Calculus I and Calculus II tried to teach me about functions modeling physics. Just as every human has their own perspective, each system has its own numerical system. 1+1=2 to those that live in a decimal world. 1+2=10 for those that live in a binary world. Both are true. Both good and evil co exists in human worlds, so long as humans are alive.
    So long as they are alive, at least.

  • Ymarsakar

    “1+2=10 for those that live in a binary world.”
    Correction, that would be true in a trinary world. A binary world has 1+1=10. This is the “magick” of logick.

  • DL Sly

    Ummm……., Ymar, I was speaking about you not commenting on my enjoyment of correcting the teachers.

  • Ymarsakar

    I see.