Teaching has taught me a couple of very valuable lessons: how much I still don’t know, and how fortunate I was in the circumstances in which I grew up.
One of the facts every teacher understands is that to own knowledge, you must be able to impart that knowledge to another person. That’s what teachers do every day, but it’s also an excellent tool in observing whether students truly own what you’ve taught them. When they can teach that knowledge to a classmate—it’s theirs forever.
That’s been my experience with grammar, and that’s also where the second part of my valuable learning has come in. You see, I grew up in a household where writing and speaking correctly were simply facts of life. My father, who was a high school dropout, rose to become a top executive in a television broadcasting company. He did it in the way many self-taught people do, by emulating those he admired and by grasping firmly onto any knowledge he could. He read voraciously and had an extensive active vocabulary. While my father devoured a lot of non-fiction and bestsellers, my mother gravitated toward the classics (although she does read what I write – thanks, Mom!). In addition to plenty of time spent reading or locating books in the library to read, we were also a family of debaters. We loved to argue and prove points and learned to do so in a friendly way.
All of this is simply to say that what I learned of the English language was largely through osmosis. I understood the principles of good grammar because that was what we used in our home on a daily basis. Utilizing an extensive vocabulary was second nature, and if I encountered a word I didn’t know, I was either given a definition or synonym, or directed to the dictionary.
Did I pay attention to grammar instruction in school? Oh no. I yawned through it and relied on my innate ability to slide through—like many other students, I’m sure. It wasn’t until I began learning German that I finally discovered the disadvantages of not having learned the difference between indirect and direct objects, of understanding the parts of speech and how each word functions in a sentence. If I could go back (lol) I swear I would pay more attention to that sentence diagramming we did in 5th grade.
Life has handed me a second chance, though, to learn the technical aspects of grammar that I ignored during my education. That’s one of the great aspects of being a teacher. States require continuing education in order to renew teaching licenses. So right now, I am in the midst of an online grammar course offered by one of the state universities. This time—I’m paying attention because I expect it to pay off in two ways. First of all, a better understanding of the mechanics of the English language should help me improve my instruction to my own students. There is also the payoff in my writing career. I hope, and I’m sure my editors do too, that it will make editing and revising a much less laborious endeavor. We’ll see.