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Grammar Central > Hellish (& Heavenly) Stories of Grammar Teachers Past

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message 1: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Have any anecdotes about writing or grammar teachers who inspired you (say, to want to be a writer) or tortured you (say, to never want to diagram ANYTHING, much less a sentence, again as long as you lived)?

Share your stories here...

message 2: by Ken (last edited Feb 04, 2008 01:07PM) (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Well, there's my 9th grade English teacher, Mr. Powell. Diagramming sentences was his thing. Every day. On the board. Lord, how I hated it. This branch begets that branch begets this branchette. Yeesh.

And you know what? It did nothing for me as a writer. I'm pretty good with language, but I owe nothing to Mr. P and his Diagramming Trees. Nothing at all. Even the parts of speech eluded me like so many fugitives.

Oddly, some of my classmates LOVED diagramming. Odder still, these same kids, later on in high school, didn't do so well in English. They were tearing UP the joint in math, however.

It was then that I decided that diagramming sentences belongs to the same brain hemisphere as math. All cooly logical and precise. Just the type of thing a spatial guy like me is allergic to.

Sorry, Mr. Powell. Nothing personal, but it was all for naught in my case...

message 3: by Trina (new)

Trina (trieb) | 4 comments I had a teacher in high school (Mr. Klotz) who used to have us write 20 sentences each week for our vocabulary words, but they had to be at minimum 15 words and he used to tell us exactly what kinds of sentences he wanted. So we might have to do 5 compound sentences, 5 complex sentences, etc.

I thought the teacher was pretty cool as a person, but I think if I had to read those sentences every week, I'd go insane. That being said, whenever I was annoyed at someone, I would kill them off in my sentences.

Now, whenever I give vocabulary, I make my kids write sentences with their words. But I don't tell them what kinds of sentences - or lengths. I'm lucky if I can get them to include context clues.

I don't remember a thing about diagramming sentences, but I know that I use that knowledge when I write -- and when I edit. So, to some extent, I actually think diagramming is useful.

But it bored me to tears.

message 4: by Ken (last edited Feb 05, 2008 01:21PM) (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Hmn. I wonder how you "use" that knowledge when you write. I mean, we ALL use our knowledge of subject-predicate \ adjectives, adverbs, etc., etc., but how does that come to you exclusively via diagramming history? Do you see a link, in your case? Interested, is all!

message 5: by Trina (new)

Trina (trieb) | 4 comments I don't think it's necessarily a conscious thing. I think while we are writing, we know how to use adjectives, adverbs, and subjects, subordinate clauses, predicates, etc. We usually know how to vary up our word choice and sentence structure to make our writing stronger.

I definitely don't think it comes exclusively through diagramming. I suspect it comes more from having grammar pounded into my head in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade almost to the exclusion of everything else.

Diagramming was just one of the hammers -- or one of the nails.

I think that diagramming is useful for a certain type of learner -- the kid who has to see (preferably in full color with pictures) exactly what that over-complicated sentence means and why it means that instead of something else.

I think I misspoke before. Diagramming was one of those things that I did that vaguely stuck in a corner of my brain. I don't think I would do it very often if I was responsible for grammar, but I would do it on occasion. (And not just to be mean.)

message 6: by Ken (last edited Feb 06, 2008 01:22PM) (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
I agree about the unconscious thing. It's difficult -- even for the experts -- to pinpoint what makes for the teaching of a good writer. By that I mean, I could be out-diagrammed by many writers that I know I could out-write.

The best teacher I had for writing was (ten guesses) my high school creative writing teacher. A different bird than essay writing, creative writing allows you to play more with the language (which I love to do). She opened my eyes to a lot of stuff. She had us sending in front and inside stuff to greeting card companies, for instance, not just writing short stories and poems, etc. Really neat stuff you never even consider -- at least as a teen.

message 7: by Donna (new)

Donna | 2 comments I had a teacher in 6th grade who taught all of her classes to sing the list of helping verbs to the tune of jingle are was, were have had, has be been do did, may can must shall, will might could should, would am does that's all... I've remembered that ever since.

I also had a 9th grade teacher who taught us how to understand prepositions with a hand puppet called "Supper Bennet Bunny" (her name was Joyce Bennet) and a small take out box. If the bunny could be under the box, in the box, on top of the get the idea.

Both of these teachers gave me ways to understand grammar, pass tests and teach students of my own, but neither improved my writing-- which I still struggle with today.

I think Newengland is right in writing that the skills of writing well and understanding grammar are not as closely linked as might be supposed. A good grounding in grammar does help edit a piece of work, but may not be that useful in getting it on the page.

However, reading a great deal does help inspiration.

message 8: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Hi Donna (and glad you ducked into the kitchen!).

Liked those stories of grammar put to music (reminds me of the now immortal show Schoolhouse Rock).
I tried singing your helping verbs, but probably didn't match all the words to the right bell. Probably I need help. Got a verb, anyone?

It's funny how powerful a force music is. Ask a kid to memorize a long poem and it may give her fits. Meanwhile, she's committed to memory about 200 songs (lyrics=poetry, no?).

message 9: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 16276 comments Mod
My best grammar teacher was the public library. While I was plowing through all those books, I didn't even realize I was being taught.


message 10: by Debbie, sardonic princess of cheerfulness (last edited Feb 29, 2008 11:34AM) (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) | 6389 comments Mod
You don't need any more verbs NE, just ignore the commas and sing one verb per note! And I hope you are right about memorizing lyrics...I have some horrendous Latin dirges to memorize for the nuns chorus in Sound of Music!
Ruth....that is why reading aloud to my class daily is so important....children who would otherwise never read nor hear correct grammar / inspirational language sit totally enraptured. I have had some pretty tough cookies embarrass themselves by impulsively exclaiming "Don't close that book!" at the end of a daily session.

message 11: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Ruth, Debbie, Et Al (Latin for "And Al"):

I read aloud to the kids, too. Do it with my 8th graders (age 13/14), and did it when I taught seniors in high school. Doesn't matter. If you're a good reader and you're reading great literature (or even just a good yarn), they are absolutely mesmerized.

Hmn. Makes me feel like a TV! (Only the good kind...)

message 12: by Symbol (new)

Symbol | 51 comments My parents and library books taught me more grammar than I ever learned in school. Sadly, the majority of my English teachers didn't seem all that interested in teaching grammar.

I remember some absolutely brilliant grammar picture books though! I loved them.

message 13: by Eastofoz (last edited Mar 01, 2008 11:52AM) (new)

Eastofoz I never learned English grammar formally the way I learned French, Italian or Spanish grammar which all helped me figure out English grammar eventually :)

I had a French grammar teacher back in grade 5 who would have us sing these idiotic songs that taught French interjections and a bit of useful vocabulary--she sang terribly and it'd bring tears to your eyes (nasty stuff!). But this same weirdo also gave us an anagram to remember all the intrasitive verbs which saved your life for future tests!

I had an excellent French grammar teacher in high school who'd make verb tense charts 24/7 and you'd have to know them inside out to pass her tests--she was really good because she explained grammar like an interlocking puzzle that made sense when it all came together.

And in my university lit classes I had a prof who'd freak on your head if you handed in a paper and used split infinitives or ended a sentence with a preposition--didn't even know all that was "wrong" at the time :)

Oh and I can't forget the totally wacked English teacher in grade 12 who taught "scansion" (I still don't understand what that is nor the purpose it serves!) He'd belt out these lines from Shakespeare parsing it (I think that's what he called it) --that was brutal stuff and soooooo boring! No one understood anything! Same thing when the foreign language teachers would teach "stress" in words--most people were lost. Anyone know if they still teach that stuff outside of uni class?

Good grammar teachers are a rare breed ;)

message 14: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 02, 2008 12:52AM) (new)

Hi folks,

Just popped in to take a look. Like Richard, I feel in need of a refresher. I've been helping my 9 year old grandson with his homework and relearning many things. I always loved grammar, including diagraming sentences (I liked the visual aspect of it.) I shall look around and speak with you again when everyone is awake.



message 15: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
What, were we sleeping? Maureen, are you a Night Owl, or are you halfway 'round the world from, say, New England's "green and pleasant land" (apologies to William Blake for hijacking his ode to Old England).

Great post, Richard. We teach FANBOYS in middle school, and the acronym is a great mnemonic device. More difficult? Teaching complex sentences. Now you're getting into subordinating conjunctions, which are more numerous. This is when you have one independent clause, one (or more) dependent clauses, and no Santa Clauses. In any event, I keep it simple (oops, can't say that word!) and, to start, teach it as a dependent and an independent.

Subordinating conjunctions are the (cue Darth Vader music) sentence destroyers. Thus you can take any simple sentence (an independent clause) and destroy it by tacking on a subordinating conjunction.

* The dog barks. (Indy clause)

* Although the dog barks (destroyed and turned into fragment by addition of subordinating conjunction)

* Although the dog barks, the cat ignores it. (Complex sentence= dependent clause, comma, independent clause)

message 16: by Ken (last edited Mar 02, 2008 08:49AM) (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Ironically, these days most kids get more grammar in their foreign language classes than they do in their English classes.

Sic semper grammaticus...

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

yes ne, i am on the west coast and was burning a little midnight oil so indeed i think it was sleepy time in good ole new england
i'm originally from maine however

message 18: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Maine? My favorite state (and where I spend the summer). Of course, there's the coastal Maine and the inland lakes Maine. Or you could say there's Southern Maine around Portland (looking similar to the rest of the "flatlands" of NE) and upstate Maine... the boonies... timber country.

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

grew up in the county in Presque Isle-hate to tell ya but the timber was all taken out in the 30's to 70's
it's all second, third and fourth growth, mostly softwoods
lived in Portland in the 70's 80's-just gentrifying-very cool town at that time, not big cityish
Machias-downeast-the real downeast not midcoast, belfast mt. desert in the 90's-the real maine

where do you summer?

message 20: by Ken (last edited Mar 03, 2008 03:02AM) (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
My aunt lives in Scarborough, so I visit her when I want to do some beach slumming or when I want to run to the pier (OOB) for some honky-tonk, Quebecois sightings. I repair to the Oxford Hills (western inland) lake country for my annual recovery/refresher period from teaching. The routine is: run first thing, take a book to the dock second thing, swim third thing, read some more fourth thing, do some activity or other (like take a nap maybe) fifth thing, cook and eat sixth thing, and finally read until bedtime (because the cabin is mercifully TV-free). Rinse, lather, and repeat the next day.

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

you just described a perfect lake day
i lived on Higgins beach for two winters
miss maine terrrrribly

message 22: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Ah yes. Little Higgins Beach. And Kettle Cove. And Scarborough Beach. And Grand Beach. Prout's Neck? Cape Elizabeth.

You know, Winslow Homer's place out on the cape and all. Now there was a painter...

message 23: by Amy (new)

Amy | 21 comments I learned most of my grammar from my favorite Linguistics professor in my Modern English Grammar class. I learned to hate prescriptism (sorry to those who disagree) and finally realized that my junior high teachers were wrong. The class was structured completely around observing and diagramming sentences rather than judging them, which was good since I still haven't got a clue and I have degrees in Linguistics and Literature!

message 24: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Qu'est-ce que c'est "prescriptism? I want to know whether I should disagree or not.

message 25: by Debbie, sardonic princess of cheerfulness (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) | 6389 comments Mod
I usually take it to mean a severely proscribed programme of teaching (not learning!) with absolutly no room for exploration or enjoyment or change!!!!

message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

Prout's neck, down black's road or black point road?
I love Winslow Homer. The Portland Museum of Art on Congress Street has a wonderful permanent collection of his work.
His precision is incredible and his understanding of the people and landscape of Maine is so absolutely pure and true.

I can smell the wild roses along the cliffs as we speak. You are not helping me any with my nostalgia for home.

message 27: by Ken (last edited Mar 08, 2008 05:55PM) (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Debbie -- Ooh! "Programme"! I just love your Zealandish (as opposed to outlandish) spelling. What's on the programme tonight, folks? The only thing like it in the states is the silly word "shoppe" instead of "shop." If a shop calls itself a "Shoppe," you can bet the prices in it will be 20% higher than the (mere) shop down the road.

Maureen -- I'm trying to make you nostalgic, you see. Lassie, come home! Shane, come back! And all those classical appeals apply. Once a Mainah always a Mainah. It's wicked cool up the-ah, a-yuh.

message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

yes it's inevitable, the lure of sleet and snow

even the cut of the faces seem somehow more true

does that make any sense

compatriots in geography

message 29: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Yes, it does make sense.

What's interesting is that the older sorts in Maine seem friendlier than those my age (or certainly younger). When I run up there early every morn (to avoid the heat, I'm out by 7), I get a friendly wave from more than half the motorists who look 60-plus. Younger than that? Nada. Nunca. Nyetski. Might as well be Massachusetts.

Irony: most of the elder Mainers are bemused by runners and think running is a bit of a joke, but they're still friendly.

message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

haha yes the wavers are a maine fixture
and there are several types
as well as a certain protocol
like everywhere else younger generations have lost the art in their hurry to catch up with modern life
or because from early youth they are trapped in modern life even in maine
i'm not sure you can totally attribute it to friendliness unless it is the sitting on the porch, step, or driveway wave and even that is mixed with the idea of imparting to the stranger
that this is known territory
that it's settled by this person waving
on the road it has tinges of community and cooperation
one driver passing another says hi neighbor
i see you there in your day and know you are part of our community and if you need help just let me know
if i need help i'll call on you
if the wave is to a stranger it is sort of a hello there
this is our road
our home
mind your p's and q's now
and we know you're here
as long as you act right you'll be accepted

two neighbors passing each other may do the abbreviated version which is just a finger or two raised slightly off the steering wheel in passing
or if the windshield is clear it's just a slight nod with direct eye contact
this is an aknowledgement of belonging
pick-up trucks, transport vans, and truckers have another level of acknowlegement to each other in nods waves etc. based on shared occupation in addition to territory

as to joggers
i hold with the oldtimers who always put in a hard days work so any form of "exercise to stay fit" made no sense
running along a road in particular breathing car fumes strikes them as counter productive
and the sheer pragmatic nature of old timers eschews any rationale for running anywhere unless there is a fire, or a flood :)

message 31: by Debbie, sardonic princess of cheerfulness (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) | 6389 comments Mod
It's not Zealandish NE!!! It's just English 'the way she is spoke' (or spelled in this case)! Really, truly English - on my honour!!!! I believe the language has had a chequered career over your way - check out this link:

message 32: by Ken (last edited Mar 09, 2008 04:14AM) (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
I know, I know, Debbie. I didn't mean that literally, I meant it jokingly. You'll know when I'm serious by my tone of voice. Um. Or something. But a lovely link. And American English is about as amusing to the Brits as Quebecois French is to the Frenchies.

What a lovely post, Maureen. You should be an anthropologist and write a book, Margaret Mead-like, on Maine. It's waiting (and blueberry season is only 6 months away).

Anyone seen the Cheez-Its? It's my one processed-all-to-hell weakness... And who left the back door open again? Baby, it's windy outside...

message 33: by Prabha (last edited Mar 18, 2008 02:05AM) (new)

Prabha | 70 comments Thought about a teacher of mine today. Biology, not grammar. Petite lady who could quell the class with a look. A really no-nonsense type in class. I still remember the lesson - exploring the mouthparts of cockroaches. Each of us had a white ceramic tile with a cockroach lying on it, belly up. We had to pick the insect up using our thumb and forefinger, and gently tug the various mouthparts out with a pair of tweezers. All very easy, unless one has a cockroach phobia like me. So there I was, staring at the dead insect, desperately trying to muster up the courage to pick it up, hoping all the while that I could get away with not doing anything at all - when suddenly I heard a sharp authoritative voice hiss from behind me "Pick it up NOW!" There was nothing left to do except to reach out and pick the d*** bug up and get on with it. Which I did, promptly. And what d'you know, it really wasn't THAT bad. I kinda forgot my fear when I focussed really hard on the task at hand. I did really well that day, and was rewarded with her smile of approval.

I still hear her voice sometimes. When I have a huge piece of work to tackle, especially if it's something I don't feel very confident about, and I stare at it for ages, even days, all frozen, I hear Mrs Soh's voice, soft yet very firm, telling me to "Pick it up NOW!"

message 34: by Ruth (last edited Mar 18, 2008 09:29AM) (new)

Ruth | 16276 comments Mod
That's a wonderful story, Prabha. Something we should all remember.

It reminds me of Anne Lamott's book on writing, Bird by Bird. Seems her little brother had to write a paper on birds and like many kids, left it to the last minute. He was sitting at the kitchen table, overwhelmed by the magnitude of his task when his father gave him some sage advice. "Just take it bird by bird."

message 35: by Debbie, sardonic princess of cheerfulness (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) | 6389 comments Mod
Here's a pet who ask, "Can I go toilet?"

message 36: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 16276 comments Mod
I suppose if we can verbify "parent," we can verbify "toilet."


message 37: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Marco -- Another cruel English teacher line (well, cruel only if they don't allow you to use the bathroom). And didn't you hate it when you asked, "Can I go to the boys' room?" and the teacher answered smugly, "I'm sure you could, now open your book to page 35."


That and these famous teacher lines:

"Would you like to share that with the class?"

"What part of 'no' don't you understand?"

message 38: by Symbol (last edited Mar 19, 2008 10:52AM) (new)

Symbol | 51 comments Marco, my third grade teacher did the same thing.
Most of us picked it up quickly enough and started using 'May I...' instead of 'Can I...'.
I remember one student in particular thought that didn't quite catch on. He must have asked dear Miss Cox "Can I go to the bathroom?" half a dozen times or more and looked completely baffeled when she kept assuring him that she had the utmost confidence in his abilities. I thought that he might wet himself before he remembered to say 'May I...'. I finally took pity on him and whispered the appropriate question in his ear. No doubt the teacher both heard and saw me doing this, but she was satisfied enough once he repeated it to her.

message 39: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 16276 comments Mod
What happened to the old idea of just silently holding up one finger?


message 40: by Debbie, sardonic princess of cheerfulness (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) | 6389 comments Mod
My kids make a capital T with their hands!! I think they learned it in kindy.

message 41: by Symbol (new)

Symbol | 51 comments When we got older we were allowed to just write our names and the time on the board instead of asking permission. That way the teacher knew who was out and for how long. Simple, but it worked!

message 42: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Trouble is, you get the same kids leaving every day on that system. Talk about needing a restroom -- it's a "rest" from the teacher (or maybe from learning, is more like it).

message 43: by Eastofoz (new)

Eastofoz That "can/may" thing is annoying. It's always those power-trip loving teachers that say dumb things like "I'm sure you can" when you ask to go to the bathroom--makes me cringe.

message 44: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Yeah. Down with teachers! If you don't eat your meat, you can't have your pudding! Attica, Attica, Attica! (Uh, wait a minute... I'm getting carried away here.)

message 45: by Debbie, sardonic princess of cheerfulness (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) | 6389 comments Mod
So I prescribe a serious dose of The Oxford English Dictionary to 'cure' your descriptivism!!!

message 46: by Debbie, sardonic princess of cheerfulness (new)

Debbie (sardonicprincessofcheerfulness) | 6389 comments Mod
:-) suggestions to cure my prescriptivism? I am a recidivist prescriptivist!!

Jan (the Gryphon) (yogryphongmailcom) | 214 comments All medicinal grammar aside, I thought I might add my tale of Eighth Grade English. Mrs. Deutsch taught us grammar and vocabulary with a strict hand from Walsh's Plain English and the Reader's Digest respectively. I enjoyed the class, even diagramming, which I don't do much of anymore, but at least I can read a sentence of more than five words with comprehension. Plus, I got to show off my impressive vocabulary. My grade on the vocabulary final (created by Reader's Digest to compare schools across the nation) was so high it wouldn't even fit on the college seniors' chart.

During tests, Mrs. D. would wander up and down between the desks, checking for cheaters and singing sotto voce: "If you see me coming better step aside./Many men didn't and many men died./One gun of iron and the other of steel,/If the left don't get you then the right one will." She was no Tennessee Earnie Ford, but we got the point.

Also, she would--with no fear of reprisal--pull the remedial students (the guys who should have been in Tenth Grade and were already 6'4" and 260lbs of free-wheeling fun) from the hallway to spit their gum into the wastebasket.

message 48: by M (new)

M (electriceccentricity) | 15 comments I love the song, haha, what a woman.
It's good to see that some teachers are so interesting that they are remembered long after school.

I had some interesting teachers.
I only graduated high school last year, and let's say I was good at it, but never really understood the ridiculous rules.
Though I can't argue with my OP, highschool must have showed for something and I won't be ungrateful.

My German teacher would always press us to "do bit grammar". The grammar was never ending .. I can't remember a lesson where we didn't "do bit grammar".

message 49: by Ken (new)

Ken | 18539 comments Mod
Nowadays you do more grammar in foreign language (as they call it here) than in English. Funny, that.

message 50: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 16276 comments Mod
Newengland wrote: "Nowadays you do more grammar in foreign language (as they call it here) than in English. Funny, that."

True. I am a seat-of-the-pants grammarian, but what little I know about formal grammar rules mostly came from studying Spanish, Italian and Norwegian.

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