Stop Me Before I Teach Again!

by Robert Pondiscio
September 29th, 2010

Miss Eyre willfully engaged in a subversive act at her New York City school–something “so controversial, indeed so dangerous, that it might have cost me my rating.”   Her crime?  She taught the-skill-that-must-not-be-named: writing mechanics.

I photocopied handouts with rules. I circled mistakes on students’ papers. I made them write down proper usages of punctuation marks. I did all that and so much more. And it felt GOOD. In fact, I bookmarked some EXERCISES in a WORKBOOK that I might photocopy and make my students do.

Perhaps she can still be saved.  She is not wholly unrepentant.  Indeed, she seems to understand the depth of her depravity, even if she’s not quite able to control the demons within.  “I’m a terrible teacher,” she confesses.

“I’m supposed to assume that my students will magically figure out the rules of the conventions of the English language simply by being wide-eyed ingenues before the great literature of the world and writing about their lives, this despite the fact that relatively few of them have learned any great life lessons at their tender ages. This is what I’m supposed to do.

But faced with fifteen-year-olds “who can’t use commas properly and aren’t even sure what they are” Miss Eyre has gone rogue, left the reservation.  ”Jeez, what will I do next?” she asks. ”Make everyone in the class read the same story? Force kids not to copy research reports from Wikipedia? STOP ME BEFORE I TEACH AGAIN!”

Teaching grammar.  How can something so wrong feel so right?


  1. The best English teacher I had was my 7th grade teacher who still made kids memorize the prepositions and taught grammar relentlessly.

    Had my future teachers followed in her model, I would be a far better writer and speaker than I currently am.

    I don’t blame them– those English teachers wanted me to learn but didn’t know how to teach me because everything they were told was “good” was actually pretty bad. But I can’t help but to feel just a little cheated, and I had every advantage in the world when it comes to my education.

    Comment by Jason — September 29, 2010 @ 10:06 am

  2. Congratulations to Miss Eyre for bucking the nonsense and teaching students what they need to learn!

    Comment by Diana Senechal — September 29, 2010 @ 10:29 am

  3. The best WRITING teacher I ever had was my Intro to Biology professor my first year of college. He engaged in many of these same practices–photocopying handouts with rules, circling mistakes on students’ papers. Would’ve been great if I’d gotten it earlier, but at least I got it. I know so many who didn’t.

    Comment by Anne — September 29, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

  4. Once had a former student approach me after a high school play with the comment (out of the blue), “The beehive.” It took me a second to figure out who she was because she looked different when I had her at nine years old versus this time when she was sixteen, VERY different.

    We reminisced briefly before she told me she still remembered the little trick I taught the class about recognizing prepositions. If you could say, “The beehive,” after the word it was probably a preposition; “to” the beehive, “from” the beehive, “over” the beehive, “under” the beehive, etc., etc. She said none of her other elementary or middle school teachers ever taught grammar but she said it came in very handy especially in dealing with writing mechanics.

    One of the more memorable moments from a lifetime in the classroom, and a very good one at that.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — September 29, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

  5. Same here, Jason: my 7th grade English class was almost pure grammar, including sentence diagramming. My teacher (God bless her) was both indefatigable and an excellent communicator who explained grammatical rules and constructions clearly. I hated it at the time. I was a good student, and since I could write serviceable sentences, I assumed I had no need to waste time on the particulars. In retrospect, it may have been the most valuable English class I ever had, including my college English major.

    There are no magical shortcuts to writing well, and to pretend otherwise is educational delusion.

    Comment by mr tall — September 29, 2010 @ 9:59 pm

  6. Awwwwww, you guys! :)

    Comment by Miss Eyre — September 30, 2010 @ 6:21 am

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chan Stroman and Robert Pondiscio, Alltop Education. Alltop Education said: Stop Me Before I Teach Again! [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Stop Me Before I Teach Again! « The Core Knowledge Blog, The Core Knowledge Blog -- — September 30, 2010 @ 7:54 am

  8. Anyone remember Harbrace College Handbook? It was meant to be a reference for college students who, no longer being taught grammar or writing mechanics, need a reference. But, we were taught out of it for the 4 years of HS. Every week, there would be assignments from it. Every kid I graduated with 9about 30) is a clear writer.

    Comment by pinetree — September 30, 2010 @ 8:12 am

  9. Hello,

    I came across your blog and thought you might like This online resource offers practical advice and tactics on teaching grammar.

    Have a great day,

    Comment by Emily — September 30, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  10. Oh, yes! And I am appalled at how college students are insulted when I insist they correct grammar and punctuation errors! I teach EDU courses for “future teachers,” and the future is not looking bright based on what I read. In a foundations course I’m currently teaching, I had a student send an e-mail complaining: “This is not a english course, ya know.” Yes, sadly, that is a quote.

    Here is a rule in all of my classes: Adhere to the rules of Standard English as they apply to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Yes, it counts and counts off.

    Regardless of the course content, if you teach, you must be an English teacher, as well. We must set a higher expectation.

    Comment by Beth Gray-Robertson — September 30, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  11. Miss Eyre is clearly in need of intensive professional development. Had she been properly indoctrinated in current brain-based, student-centered, constructivist pedagogy, this crime against children might well have been prevented.

    Now everyone get into small groups brainstorm a list of early-retirement options for Miss Eyre and her kind.

    Comment by James O'Keeffe — September 30, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  12. When I was an undergrad in the late 60s, every English major in the College of Arts and Sciences had to take “Structure of the English Language” and “Stylistics”, in that order. Both were exactly what they were titled, both were taught by the same, excellent professor (I had her in another course; I wasn’t an English major) and both were regarded as among the most difficult courses in the whole university. She didn’t grade on a curve, either. I’m not sure that they were required for secondary ed English majors in the ed school, although they certainly should have been.

    Comment by momof4 — October 2, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

  13. Adding another prop to an awesome 7th-grade English teacher!

    Mine, a white-haired lady 20+ years ago, taught sentence diagramming, in-depth grammar, the whole nine yards. (We also read Johnny Tremain, which was the low point of the class, I felt. Who wants to read a silly book when they could diagram sentences instead?!?)

    I found out recently that she had decided to retire as she was being more and more pushed to teach less grammar and more of the touchy-feely workshop crap that has come into vogue.

    Comment by Hainish — October 3, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

  14. I, too, treasure the memory of learning our language structure. In elementary school, we practiced the basics until we got it right. In 7th grade, we unlocked the mysteries of more sophisticated structures by diagramming and revising, along with a healthy dose of literature.
    In many schools, there is now a young generation of teachers who were never taught grammar, so they would not know where to begin. In my own suburban district, we need professional development for teachers who have never been taught basic rules of grammar. Yes, I’m near retirement age, and our school’s program requires me to work with struggling students in Reading-Writing Workshop as structured by contract they have signed with TC. Our 8 and 9 year old students, the majority of whom are struggling language learners, spend their time writing their memoirs, but don’t know the basic rules of punctuation.

    Comment by LynDee — October 10, 2010 @ 8:07 am

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