Summer musings Part 1

I’m not going to lie to you folks, the summer period means something of a hiatus in my usual ranting. Instead, the summer holidays bring with them what seem to me like gentle reflections on the state of the world. There will be time enough to rant in the autumn term, says my slowly unwinding consciousness, when I am tired and the kids have managed to take me from zero to one-sixty in the space of a week and a half. For now, just amuse yourself with light observation and the occasional philosophical musing. You have all the time in the world.

So, have I thought about teaching in the past four days? Well, yes. It happens quite a lot, inadvertently or otherwise, whether I am a school or not. Take as an example the fact that I have already refrained from blogging about children who are colour coded according to their ability in one school, already restrained myself from responding to Katherine Birbalsingh’s ridiculous tirade against the father of Anders Breivik, already pondered on whether my classroom will be repainted (and, therefore, stripped of all my lovely display), already bought a new diary for the autumn term and already planned my first lesson for the Year 10 Functional Skills course I am unfortunate enough to have on my timetable. It involves balancing inspiration with a sense of real, unimagined menace.

It was Geoff Barton’s tweet on pupils’ inability to distinguish between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ that prompted this stroll through my opinions. It is an endless source of frustration for me when I have to correct this error in students’ writing. Imagine the look on my face when I meet an adult who can’t distinguish between the two words, or many other words that pose a similar quandary to the more linguistically challenged amongst us. My instinct is to consider it laziness on the part of adults and students alike. However, something akin to rage erupts beneath the surface of my skin when the assumption is made that it is my fault that students cannot choose the correct homonym. I am constantly reminding students of the rules, making games and rhymes to help them remember the difference and using the walls of my classroom as a proxy teacher, with commonly misspelt words displayed in the correct format, with definitions to hand, just in case.

I ask myself, as someone who has a tendency to ruminate over little things: what can I do? If someone could explain to me how to fix this issue magically, or even better, without the aid of magic, I would be eternally grateful. I try to think back to when I was young. What made me remember the rules and want to use them? Without getting all misty-eyed and rose tinted about it all, I recollect being ashamed of myself when I made mistakes. Do I see the same shame in my students when they mistake common homonyms? Well, no.

The logical conclusion to this is to bring back shame with a vengeance. I say this with my tongue firmly in cheek, as I don’t normally use shame as a tool in the classroom. There is something to be said about the reinforcing of messages from all adults about the importance of care in spelling. If I am saying it, the teacher in the next room should also be saying it, as should the child’s parents, as should their potential employers. Sometimes, you do hear grown ups saying: “don’t worry, my spelling is terrible, I still got a job!” That is about the time I start to gouge my own eyes out in despair. Maybe if we were all a little more horrified about the misspelling of ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ then students would be more likely to self correct.

Now, back to my coffee and magazine.

One comment

  1. dont feed the pixies

    Colour coded kids? you will fit into a box damn you!!! 🙂

    My German teacher once said that if linguists ruled the world then language would always run along straight lines and have definite rules that were always enforced – but the problem is that language is a living thing. Society, and particularly the online community of today of txtspk actively encourages and increases the change in the way that we use language – so we may have to face the fact that some of the more troublesome issues of language (all the theirs they’res and theres of this world) may soon be forgotten.

    Which I tend to think is very sad. What we really need to do is not so much name and shame but to try to encourage a love of what is, at the end of the day, a rather beautiful and strange language. I still think that you should understand the rules before you go breaking them. My schooling was pretty much a constant “you are stupid” – but I do agree that there does have to be a balance between the constant encouragement and an occasional retribution

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