Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The sad truth about English teachers

I knew my grammar and punctuation fetish was getting out of hand when, on a recent trip to the beach, I had casually written all the famly's names in a line on the sand, and my two daughters, aged 8 and 10, proceeded to add in commas. They have t0 live with me. And it's clearly rubbing off.

Last week I was asked to speak at the staff meeting of a local high school about the kinds of writing expected at university. "How much did grammar and punctuation matter at university?" was the first question I was asked. And I really didn't know. I know - I think - what I expect or hope for, but I really don't know about what is expected elsewhere.

But it struck me as significant that this was the first question that was asked. In the 90 minutes of the workshop I'd presented, I hadn't mentioned grammar or punctuation at all. But here it was: first off the block. But what I really wanted to say in response was this "If I had to choose between students who will grapple with ideas, take risks with new concepts, explore their question but fall over with expression OR students who write perfect prose but trot out established ideas without internalising or struggling to extend themselves, I'd go for poor expression every time." Of course such a dichotomy is, to a certain extent, ridiculous. But as a teacher I have often found that when my students are really struggling with ideas, their writing skills deteriorate, and I don't mind, because they're learning.

Image by BookRiot