Friday, November 03, 2006

Willy, aka Grammar Teacher Extraordinaire 

Reading the Washington Post article "Clauses and Commas Make a Comeback" brought to mind my seventh grade English teacher, Willy (Mrs. Williams when she was within hearing range). She drove us nuts - making us diagram sentences and apply every verb tense correctly.

Unfortunately, much of what Willy taught us has been ignored for the past 40+ years. Yet knowledge of basic grammar, which facilitates oral and written communication, is a skill everyone needs. In today's environment, poor grammar can prevent workers from moving ahead in their careers. What is worse, they're not told that their sloppy grammar affects their ability to articulate ideas, thoughts, etc. and is the reason they are not getting promoted.

Far too many of my current students went through school in the 80's and 90's, the era when teaching the grammatical structure of the English language was ignored. In addition, learning a foreign language, the back door way to learn English grammar, has been removed from many school curriculums. A significant part of my first day lecture covers my course's writing requirements. They learn that I am a stickler for proper grammar, punctuation, etc. I use red ink, the better to see compliments on writing well done as well as corrections.

I also tell them about Willy. If they never had Willy some school year between fifth and ninth grade, they got short changed. I'm their "Willy" now. "Grammar is like learning multiplication tables - you simply need to know it."

KING ADDS: I had a very similar teacher. I asked the director SCSU's writing center if students can diagram sentences any more, and she could only sigh a 'no'. Diagramming sentence and learning Latin in high school may have been the two most important things I did before college.