I am writing this because the children here in Florence, AL are not being taught English or the importance of using it properly. If they are, one would never know it. I have to wonder what the requirements are for a Bachelors degree these days, and even more importantly, a state of Alabama teaching certificate.
There are two reasons I make that rather bold statement. The first is that the students with whom I interact through my places of employment are unable to speak in complete sentences; using dangling participles; use the wrong verb (or tense) if a verb is used at all; end sentences with prepositions; use the incorrect pronoun; and have very poor vocabularies. I could point out other deficiencies. However, those are the most glaring. I am not referring to only those in kindergarten, or first grade. I see the problem in all K-12 students.
The problem, and remedy appears to be the teaching staff. I believe that if tested, a very large number of teachers don’t know or choose not to use grammatically correct standards themselves.
I have been on field trips with a lot of them, and I hear teachers saying things such as “me and her”, or incorrectly using “is” with a plural subject. They don’t know the difference between bring and take.
I also grew up during a time when ALL teachers considered grading for grammar and spelling to be part of their job, even if Biology was the subject for which I had to write a paper. I don’t see that anymore. In fact, when I have asked, I have been told by a teacher that their job was to teach History, or whatever subject, and they left the grammar to the English Department.
We no longer diagram sentences in school. Why? The answer I was given for that by the head of the English Department in the high school where I taught was that the “kids found it boring.” I too found it boring, but I learned how to construct a sentence, which was a skill obviously lacking in too many of the students we were graduating. We do not, or so it would appear, constantly teach and reinforce grammar in the classroom. I doubt there is a classroom filled with K-6 students in the entire State (probably few across the country) in which the students are corrected every time they say something grammatically incorrect. I don’t wish to sound like the “back in my days as a student” old fogy, but we were all but brow beaten when we made those mistakes, or so it felt. We did however, grow up knowing that good grammar, and a large vocabulary were important to a successful life.
It is my belief that something must be done at the level of the Superintendent of Schools to get the attention of the Principals and teachers in our schools. I don’t think they are bad at what they do; however, I do believe they are missing something very significant, and which I also believe as a retired high school teacher, is a primary responsibility. It is fundamental to education to ensure that the teachers being hired have an excellent command of the English language.
They need to know that if they fail in that aspect of the education of their students, they (as the teacher) have failed those students. Frankly, I don’t believe that many of the teachers realize the significance of this preparatory hurdle for their students’ futures.
David K. Ellis