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Why I am Embarrassed to Teach English

Updated on November 12, 2009

writing standards wrong




OK. First my credentials…I have taught English, writing and media for four colleges: State University of New York, Suffern; The Art Institute of Seattle; The University of Central Florida; and currently Seminole State College. I am teaching four writing classes Fundamental Writing 11 for students who missed passing  (but not by much) the college entrance English test. If a student misses the mark by a lot of points that students is assigned to Fundamental 1.

          As a disclaimer, I have to tell you that I love teaching these classes, and I love my students. These students range in age from 17 to” 50 somethings”; the one characteristic they share is they want a college education. In order to pass my class, they have to pass a state grammar test, write an essay that is graded by other English instructors, and they have to pass my class.

          Then why am I embarrassed? I fully agree that students should be able to write a five-paragraph essay that is coherent, unified, and sound in terms of sentence structure and mechanics. Hallelujah! To quote Sarah Palin; “ you bettcha!” It is the mechanics with which I have a problem. Although each student must possess good communication skills, I believe our priorities are wrong in terms of what we insist they learn and for which they test them. The English language is tough to learn. Ask any student who is multilingual and he will tell you that his language does not have all the exceptions to the rules, all the strange changes in verb tense and participles, and words used in strange ways. I use the computer: I used to use a typewriter. How did we come up with that meaning of "used"?

          As instructors we have only a certain numbers of hours to prepare students for these tests and essays. Ask most employers what they find fault with in employees’ communication skills and they will tell you spelling, using wrong word (know or no) incomplete sentences, run on sentences and non-specific language. (“ We have a lot of extra inventory”), However, for what must we prepare students:

What if anything is wrong with the following sentences?

{“Who is at the door?” “ It is me, Carole”.

Joyce runs much faster than her.

After dinner, we drank coffee, listened to music, and we took a walk.

What computer programs are you the most familiar with?

He fertilized the lawn before he planted flowers and dug up weeds.


OK. Purists, you know the answers. My problem is that although each of the sentences above is wrong, those mechanical mistakes are not the ones, which should have the highest priority.

It is I…not me for sentence one

Joyce runs much faster than she (runs).

After dinner, we drank coffee, listened to music and took a walk

He had fertilized the lawn before he planted flowers and dug up weeds.

Whether you answered all of them correctly isn’t the point. The point is that teaching the basic communications skills; complete sentences, paragraph development, logical sequence of ideas, correct vocabulary, punctuation (some of it), thesis statements, topic sentences, use of specific language all rank higher on my list of priorities.

All of the above sentences or ones just like it are on the state grammar test.  I have to spend hours preparing my students for questions such as ones above rather than the more difficult task of teaching students how to write effective sentences, paragraphs, essays, memos, business letters etc. My students also have to read complicated passages, which have as a caveat: “There are intentional errors in this passage”. The student must determine the thesis statement in this flawed passage as well as the correct order of sentences, which sentences are irrelevant and which are relevant but lack sufficient details. In other words, these passages aren’t correct at the onset.

I firmly believe that somewhere there are purists in ivory towers who pass down these regulations. By the way, they are the same purists who insist that all students read Beowulf in original English and that all students need to read “the classics”. Those tasks are fine for liberal arts students but not for average high school students. Why do we always worship good literature in centuries other than our own? In fact, the older the work the higher its priority on the reading lists. OK. Tell me that I am wrong! Tonight I will teach students the need for parallelism or why the statement above was wrong because the last portion of the sentence should be: “ took a walk not we took a walk.” I will do everything but stand on my head to prepare them for the state test, but I would like five minutes with one of the English scholars in that ivory tower.



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    • profile image

      Rubee 6 years ago

      Plz help me to learn

    • Svea profile image

      Svea 7 years ago from Florida

      Oh Frank forgive me! I have away from hubbing for a year, so I didn't see your comment. In the first sentence the correct response is he had fertilized...The rule when two actions happen in the past, the one that occured first receives a helping verb. With what computer programs are you familiar? With at the end of the sentence is a dangling prepostion.

      All three verbs must be the same:drank,listened and walked Sally runs faster than she (not her) the missing but understood word is runs..she runs. It is I or I am she. Linking verbs are followed by predicate nominate case. Sorry I am so late responding. My point is that there are more important issues in terms of communicating with the written word such as using complete vs. incomplete or run on sentences.

    • profile image

      frank 7 years ago

      He fertilized the lawn before he planted flowers and dug up weeds.

      Two definate articles are missing. As it is in the past tense it does not need to be perfect past.

      What computer programs are you the most familiar with?


      After dinner, we drank coffee, listened to music, and we took a walk.

      No need for the comma after dinner and music, no need for we after and.

      Joyce runs much faster than she

      Is Joyce she?

      "Who is at the door?” “ It is me, Carole”.

      Could be me or I, objective, subjective.

      Vernacular colloquial or what?


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