Hug an English Teacher


My mom had a plaque that was hung on the wall that said “Too late we grow smart”.  Growing up, I always thought it was something cool that she bought at a flea market but when I think now, it’s advice that makes so much sense.

In high school, I was a math nerd.  In Grade 13, I took three Mathematics, three Sciences, and grudgingly and under duress, one English.  I don’t have the report card but I do recall marks in the 80s and 90s in mathematics and science and a low 60 in English.  I’m pretty sure that, if I had the report card, there would have been an English comment to the effect “Could do so much better if he’d get off his ass and apply himself”.

It wasn’t that I didn’t take part in class – I think that I was like most normal kids – I got the impression English books were only important if they had been written by some dead guy.  Writing was important to get marks.  Every writing assignment generated the same questions….

  • how long does it have to be?
  • single or double spaced?

Good times.

At least I had the other subjects to keep my marks up.  After all, it was important to be an Ontario Scholar and get some money for university.

I got an education and life goes on.  Later, I started writing software just for the enjoyment.  They were “doors” for PCBoard software.  A friend of mine, definitely not a computer type, tried to install one on his system and failed.  His complaint to me was the lack of clear, coherent documentation.  He was right.  Writing is important so I spent some time remembering English classes and skills from the past, proofread/revised and ended up creating instructions that made sense.

I started teaching and made writing documentation a part of every computer science assignment that my students had.  I would have arguments with other computer science teachers who thought that this practice was a waste of student time.  After all, we were teaching programming.  Even the students didn’t agree with me.  I recall many times the comments “Siiir, this isn’t English class”.  (pretend it’s a diphthong to get the full effect)  I’d be forever pointing out that the actual programming isn’t the only job a computer science graduate might get.

What’s all this got to do with English teachers?

I do remember my English classes as being ones of drudgery.  But, I managed to retain at least 60% of what we were assessed.  Yesterday’s post about “Tips for Bloggers” and Edna Sackton’s 10 Tips for Reticent Bloggers“ brought back many memories.  I spent some time reflecting on what I had actually recalled.  Not bad for a math nerd.

I think of today’s English teachers and the sorts of things that they’re doing:

  • They read the classics and they read blogs – all for meaning;
  • They take Shakespeare to Twitter – and the world;
  • They teach how to do and interpret real research – not just the first page of Google;
  • They encourage editing – not some contrived exercise but via wikipedia;
  • They do group work – not just in small groups within the classrooms but with students around the world;
  • They encourage writing – not just for the teacher audience, but a larger audience through blogging;
  • They teach media appreciation – not just by watching a VCR tape from the media centre but by creating and assessing original content in the classroom.

Now, this is a subject I could really get in to.

Bless the modern English teacher.  They’re embracing a subject discipline that’s a moving target.  Go ahead – hug an English teacher.  They’re doing the things that will take our students to where they need to be.

…Doug (just another 60% blogger)