Wednesday, October 31, 2007

uneconomical language

Did you all know that I teach (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word)?

I’m in the middle of writing Fall Term reports and I’m stuck trying to come up with palatable ways of expressing "progress", "achievement" and "challenges" without causing me to grimace, retch, and hide after reading what I’ve written.

I mean how many other ways can I say "Your son just can’t spell."

And I’ll let you in on a little inside joke -- I’m absolutely positive that parents don’t even bother to read the comments I write. They're only interested in seeing their kids’ grades. So what’s the point. In essence, that concise, flowery prose I struggle to write so eloquently ends up lining their trash cans. Beautiful.

On top of having to write comments, I have to calculate grades. Yeah, the whole grading experience – I absolutely despise – terribly inconsistent and a tad bit too subjective for my taste.

I struggle with the idea that Joe Rock’s overall spelling grade is pretty much based on a series of poorly taken tests. He may study, but the reality is that when it comes time to take the test he freezes up – he’s a frustrated mess having to face a blank sheet of paper lined with looming numbers running along the margins knowing full well that it’s a crap shoot no matter how you look at it.

So I end up giving him a mediocre grade for test anxiety? Yikes!

What about the dreadful realization that he simply can’t recognize a misspelled word – it’s a 50/50 proposition for him. Spelling, writing, reading, everything having to do with words comes down to wild guesses based on poorly internalized rules of spelling, mental mispronunciations of words and a fluctuating sense of word recognition. Double yikes!

My frustration comes from not being able jump into his brain and whisper "No dude, it’s S·T·RONG not S·RONG! How in the heck are you saying that word?!"

And don’t get me started on the whacked out spelling exceptions we have throughout the English language. My poor, confused students already have a hell of a time even as I try reassuring them that it really isn’t their fault – our language is just really messed up!

Take for instance, the long ē sound. How many possible letter combinations would you expect it takes to make that happen in some of our words?



Try TEN ways!

And those ridiculous combinations are as follows:

e - as in me
ee – as in jeep
e (with a consonant in between) e – as in Christmas eve
ea – as in meat
ie – as in chief
y – as in baby
i (with a consonant in between) e – as in machine
i – as in variation
ei - as in receive (‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ and in words that rhyme with ‘day’ – come on and recite along with me!!)
ey – as in key

How’s that for messed up? And don’t get me started on how many combos it takes to create the long ā sound …

(psst ... it’s NINE!)

*sigh* Writing reports. I have to get back to writing reports.

Now how do you spell "spectacular" again …

[FYI - I use Word spellchecker! But look out! Those accursed homonyms get me every time.]
$$$wishes: pretty quiet on that front.
$$$sins: pretty quiet on that one too
$$$goals: "How do spell ‘filthy, stinking rich’?"


Jeni said...

Ah, now you are hitting on a topic that used to really frustrate me, tick me off to no end when my kids were in school. WHY do these reports and comments have to be stated in "glowing" terms? I always hated it when I would go in for a teacher conference (no comments put on report cards here) and the teacher would just go on and on about how wonderfully this or that kid was doing, no problem here, none there, yadda yadda and then a week or two later, the report card would come home and the grades sure as hell never reflected any of the "wonderful" things said teacher had told me that said child was doing so wonderfully with. Maybe the key here is to be gut-level honest! Your kid isn't studying! Your kid day dreams! Your kid is a bully! Your kid CAN'T yet read and he is in 12th grade! (Ok, that one would be a little beyond help wouldn't it?) But maybe steps like that instead of talking nice-nice all the time for fear of the little wonders being shell-shocked or something along those lines by being shown up for what their deficiencies are ASAP rather than just glossing over them and them never getting properly addressed. You know by now, I'm sure, that teachers CAN NOT DO IT ALL -they have to have some kind of support to their efforts from the home but if teachers keep telling parents what the parents want to hear and not the truth, then guess who is going to take the fall eventually when little Johnny can't read and Susie can't do math, etc. Tell 'em the damned truth to begin with and that YOU expect them to participate in this learning process!!!

Dave said...

I am forever grateful to Mrs. Olschlaeger, my first and second grade teacher, with an honorable mention to Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot.

Dave said...

I just remembered something. I forgive her for remonstrating when I "read" ahead in the reader (do they still call the textbook that?). I still remember her saying "and just what are you going to do tomorrow?" after I demonstrated that I was indeed reading and understanding it. We didn't have AP classes back then. Second grade, after having listened to it during first grade, was a little boring.

To continue on the saga, third through fifth were in the same classroom and then sixth through eighth in another room. By the time you finished each block, you'd certainly heard the material enough.

sis-in-law said...

First, this post makes my anxiety level about my kids entering school (in Fall 2009, btw) go up exponentially. I'm really freaked about how they will "do" in school.

Secondly, and completely off topic, I'm still amazed that you ended up the teacher and I ended up the engineer!!! It really was supposed to be the other way around when we were kids!

molly gras said...

Jeni -
Teachers and teaching assistants are in an interesting predictament nowadays -- trying to accurately assess students' academic ability vs. maintaining awareness of fragile self esteems (b/c of learning disabilities, differences in learning styles, etc.) vs. dealing with touchy (often hostile) unresolved parental issues.

Ahh ... they simply don't pay teachers enough!

Dave -
A one-room classroom?

Damn, man I never pictured you as being that old. Highly literate - yes. Very old - no ;)

Sista -
To fulfill self-fulfilling prophecies here -- I was always the teacher to your student.

And if I recall correctly, I was a bit of a hard ass even back then :)