I want to devote today’s piece to my daughter’s middle school English teacher. I did tell my daughter that I was going to discuss her teacher and she made me swear I would not mention the good woman’s name. So, for now let’s just refer to her as “Ms. English” (although her real name is Ms Heidi Lucas and she teaches at English at Cope School, Shed Road, Bossier City, LA 71111) The subject of “Ms English” came up over the dinner table when we were joined by a classmate of my daughter, whose name is Lindsey (but I’m not allowed to mention that either. Incidentally, my daughter’s name is Aine (pronounced Awn-ya : it’s the Irish for Ann).
So there we were munching into dinner and I ask the girls to indulge me in this game I play now and again called “Best Part of The Day and Worst Part of The Day”. It’ s a pretty neat way to get conversation going and works as long as you don’t do it every night. The girls were telling me about an English test they had and they mentioned the teacher, Ms Luca…… “Ms English”. “She knows how to treat people”, my daughter chimes in with, and her friend nods vigorously in agreement. “What do you mean”? I ask, trying to get her to be a bit more elaborate. “Well, she respectful to all those that show her respect, but if you’re not nice to her, she doesn’t take any guff”. “Ms English”, I take my hat off to you. The girls clearly like you because you’re thoughtful and considerate of people’s feelings, and if someone’s giving you grief, well, up with that you will not put. You go girl!
Ms. Luc… “ Ms. English” has a difficult job too ; she has to teach English grammar. The girls had had a test that day on differentiating complex sentences from compound sentences. To what end, I wondered? Does this knowledge make you a better writer? No. Does it make you a more interesting person at dinner parties? Hardly. It’s neither practical nor interesting, unlike Math and Poetry. At least with Poetry and Math, they can stir the soul as well as the intellect. Math can do something for you and Poetry can do something to you. So, here’s my problem with differentiating complex sentences from compound ones: it serves no practical value; it’s also dull and tedious. It’s neither useful nor inspiring, so why teach it? It’s not like I’m anti-grammar either, I’m not. My only regret in life it’s that I didn’t use more semi-colons.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not the teacher’s fault. Are you kidding me? Nowadays, teachers have little or no say whatsoever in what is to be taught. They don’t have much say either in how the content must be taught. And they have no say whatsoever in how learning is to be formally assessed. Heck, these days, if you’re a teacher, and it’s Thursday, you better be on page 34, or you’re in trouble.
So well done “Ms English”. Not only do you some put up with the garbage that’s on the curriculum, but you treat kids with dignity and respect while doing so. That’s tough. Lord knows ‘tis hard enough to work with material that’s actually interesting. Thank you.
Brian O’ Nuanain runs “Across The Pond And Beyond”, a company that organizes international vacations. You can reach him at acrossthepondandbeyond.com