Humility, thou art an unforgiving master

First and foremost, to my student visitors–thank you for stopping by.  You have become my inspiration and motivation to resume regular blogging.  Also thanks to you, my determination to write has been renewed as I endeavor to make you all proud.  I will be just as proud, however, when I can say one day that you were my students.

Now to humility…beware:  References to picky grammar points ahead (inconsequential to all but copy editors and English teachers).

There can be no more humbling experience than being proven wrong by your students.  I have had two such instances in the last couple of months.  Once was when I, in all my Master’s degree glory, proclaimed that I had never, ever seen anything written in second person.  You know: first person (I, me, we, us), second person (you), and third person limited or omniscient (he, she, it, him, her, they or them).  The fact is that very little literature is written in second person, and that is what I was thinking of. My fourth graders, however, have proceeded to point out every single time we see anything written in second person, which at this level of instruction is quite a lot.  Turns out most letters and direction manuals are written in second person.  Since back-pedalling for a group of 9- and 10- year-olds would definitely label me as either a liar or totally incompetent, I had to let it go, but not without compromising my role as an authority on English grammar.  Every time the word “you” pops up in a sentence, they exclaim eagerly, “Isn’t that second person?”  To which I must hang my head in shame and reply, “Yes, it is.”

The other situation also involved a grammatical point that I got wrong, but the 5th graders have been far more gracious in their acceptance of my professional flaws.  Did you know (second person, I get it, get off my back) that now they teach students three different “perfect” tenses: past perfect, present perfect and future perfect?  If you are curious (and I feel sure you are not, but I’m going to tell you anyway), perfect tenses all have versions of the word “have.”  If it is “have” (I have finished dinner) it is present perfect.  If it is “had” (I had owned a aqua Datsun before I bought my first mini-van), it is past perfect.  If it has the word “will” (I will have been to the store before dinner), it is future perfect.  Without dragging you into a long story, suffice it to say that two of those trusting little angels asked me for the answer, which I gave them WRONG.  I fessed up and got them credit on their assignment, but I was embarrassed nonetheless.

Now let me say, that I’m not known for keeping my mouth shut.  In a whole life of being good and doing the right thing, I always got in trouble at school for talking too much.  This has not changed in the last 45 years.  I continue in my efforts to evolve, however, and certainly giving students wrong answers is encouragement not to speak when I’m not 100% sure of what I’m talking about.

The moral of this story:  Having a Master’s degree in English does not guarantee that you are an authority on English grammar; and elementary school students are incredibly sharp and can smell a teacher’s mistakes like a shark smells blood in the water.

2 thoughts on “Humility, thou art an unforgiving master

  1. I have to tease you about this. Myrna Newpart would be sad that you’d forgotten her stern lessons about tenses in Latin class! And while I would agree that not much formal literature is written in the second person, I write computer documentation all the time that says things like ‘To use the Jazz project management system, you must have an appropriate license and be assigned a Role with the permissions you need’.
    But ‘person’ is a matter of taste. I wrote a large guide for a new application in the second person because the VP said to make it fat, dumb, and simple. Then a Senior VP made me re-write it (taking an extra week) into the third person to make it sound more ‘professional’.
    Six months later, they decided to obsolete the entire application. Oy Vey!

    • See, I told you that you are wayyyy smarter than I am! The truth is that very little fiction is written in second person. That was kind of my point. When I said what I said, I was thinking of literature. They were thinking of everything else–thus the miscommunication. I continue to remain true to the teachings of our Latin Jedi master.

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