Monday, June 27, 2011

Love in the Classroom

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about a local third grade teacher (I'll call her Ms. Jones) who was beloved by her students.  I mentioned the blog to Ms. Jones and several days later received the following e-mail:

"I am speechless as to how I have affected those students you spoke with.
I am thankful I have made them feel loved.  It is true that I do make an effort to like the students, and especially
to let them know that I do.  Students learn better when they know they are liked/loved!  I didn't realize the impact I had on them
even after 3rd grade!  Thank you for sharing that with me, and writing about it.  I will return and read it often, especially on difficult days."

About a week later at a party I met a parent who was home schooling her children, except for her third grader who had asked to be able to go with his friends to the public school this year, because he wanted to have a particular teacher.  The mother hadn't told me which school.

"Was it a Ms. Jones?" I asked.
"How did you know?"
"Just a lucky guess, I suppose."
"Do you know - he would do anything for that teacher."  Her exact words.

I was reminded of something a friend of mine wrote years ago in a journal article about different forms of psychotherapy.  After discussing the benefits and limitations of each, he concluded: "It's primarily the relationship that cures."  I believe it's the same with education: It's primarily the relationship that teaches.

But the other thing that comes to mind is a question.  Why are teachers so often unaware of the positive impact they have on their students, even at times to the point of doubting their own ability?  Any thoughts?  Comment below, please.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Grammatical Pet Peeves

In a recent tweet Kerrie Flanagan said, "Thumbs down to @Target 's new in-store marketing campaign. 'Make this summer more funner.' Funner? Really??"  Right on, Kerrie.  Also, write on.

            "Funner" is a grammatical mistake because "fun" is a noun, not an adjective.  Were it an adjective, "funner" would be the comparative.  I know, I know.  Some modern dictionaries call "fun" both a noun and an adjective.  But that's a recent and I believe flawed modernism.  Those editors are simply allowing common use or, in this case, misuse, to dictate grammatical correctness.  Expressions like, "We had a fun time," or "She's a fun person," have contributed to the error.
            This made me think of other pet peeves, like grammatical slime seeping into the mainstream.

            The most egregious is probably, "Just between you and I...."

            Or how about, "That shirt looks well on you."
            Running a close third would be, "He graduated Michigan State in 2003."
"To graduate" can only be a transitive verb when the subject is the graduating agency, as in "Colorado State University graduated 300 medical students," but is an intransitive verb when the subject is the person doing the graduating, as in, "He graduated from CSU twenty years ago."  It cannot be a transitive verb when the subject is the graduating individual.  Anyone who said, "I graduated CSU in 2004" should not have graduated, at least not from the English department.

            Now a question or two.  Are these justifiable gripes or just pedantic silliness on my part?  Please vote in the survey to the right of this post.  I'm curious about what others think regarding the preservation of our beautiful language.

             Also I wonder when it is justifiable to make changes in the language since it is, after all, a living language.  I would guess that you have to know the rules before you can break them intentionally.  What do you think?  I'm especially curious about grammatical errors in books for children and young adults.

            Finally I wonder who is to be the final judge on these points.  Can the grammar police make us so concerned about correctness that we lose all creativity and end up with dull, bland, writing?

            Thanks for reading my blog, and don't forget to vote and/or comment below.  If you have some of your own grammatical pet peeves, please mention them in the comment section.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


(In a recent blog,, Dean Miller asks his readers to "comment ... on one thing you've done that you are truly proud of completing."  Thanks, Dean.  Here's my answer.)
            My brother and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Stillwater, Minnesota last week-end.  They have lived in the same house for almost their entire married life, a house they have made into a comfortable and welcoming home, with gardens that would be the envy of city planners or the designers of botanical gardens, have raised a wonderful family there, worked at and retired from demanding jobs, volunteered at the homeless shelter, sung in the choir, been politically active, lost dear friends, consoled the grieving families left behind, have become grandparents (doting, I might add), sailed on the river and in the great lakes, even in the moonlight, biked several times across the state in a fund-raising tour for multiple sclerosis, and have found time to sit at the bedside of loved ones who have recovered from serious illness and surgery.
            I wanted to give them something different, personal, special, but couldn't think of the right gift until I remembered that a former student of mine in a psychology course at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is a talented harpist and just happens to live in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Voila.  After one telephone call I had my surprise present all wrapped up.  Or so I thought, until my own harp teacher, Connie Wallace, a University of Wyoming faculty member, suggested I, too, should play a few pieces either alone or in a duet with the  musician from Stillwater. 

            "Find out," she said, "what your brother and his wife like."  Connie and her husband, Jack, an accomplished violinist and award winning fiddler, rearranged "Annie's Song," a John Denver classic, so that even I could attempt it.  I sent the original version to my former student, whom I had contacted to play at the banquet.  She agreed to let me play the John Denver song with her, as well as a few other songs, first solo and then duet.

            It worked.  Well, she played beautifully; I did ok.  The day before the event the young harpist and I met for a practice session, and again the next day, when we both arrived early for another rehearsal.  My former student (psychology) had become my teacher (music).  And at 76, having studied the instrument for a little over four years, I became a harpist, willing to play for others, admittedly family and friends.  I had great fun doing it.  I hope it was an example of what T.A. Northburg ( calls "Otterocity!"

             In the same way that Dean Miller suggests that "the majority of us struggle to even call ourselves writers," I have been struggling to call myself a harpist.  I asked my once student - now teacher, "When do you think I'll be able to play in public?"  Her answer "When you feel confident."