I have been a mentor to scores of student teachers and
pre-student teachers over the last 27 years. In the last 15 years, I have seen a
disturbing trend among the English majors with whom I have worked: Not one of
these bright, industrious young people has an understanding of traditional
English grammar. Whenever I inquire about this sad fact, I am given the same
story: Either the student was not required to take a class in English grammar or
the student took a Modern Grammar class that concentrated solely on linguistic
theories. Linguistic theory is fine for academicians, but it does little good
for high school students who must be prepared for the complex grammatical
questions on the Michigan Merit Exam and ACT. Certifying an English major to
teach high school students without requiring a competency in traditional English
grammar is akin to certifying a surgeon to do surgery without requiring him or
her to have a competent knowledge of human anatomy.
To deal with this most disturbing trend, I recommend that
English majors planning to teach high school English be allowed to substitute a
thorough class in traditional English grammar for any one of the several courses
in educational pedagogy he or she must take. This would, of course, shake up the
status quo of our universities’ teacher preparation programs; nonetheless,
common sense tells us that a teacher cannot teach what he or she does not know.
In the high stakes testing arena, then, if students are expected to know
traditional English grammar and the teacher does not know the subject, the
student is the real loser.
Some might argue that every educational methods or pedagogy
class is essential. I disagree. Of the seven educational courses I was required
to take before I began teaching, the content that I actually needed in my
day-to-day routine could have been learned in one course, perhaps two courses at
the most. The majority of the coursework was theoretical fluff and has been
rarely useful for practical applications. In contrast, the traditional English
grammar course I had at Central Michigan University (taught by Professor
Emeritus James Hodgins) was stimulating, demanding and practical. I still have
and have used my college grammar text, nearly every day, for nearly 30 years.
Conversely, I sold my educational methods texts to the student book store 30
seconds after the course ended.
Our state’s new "relevant and rigorous" curriculum demands such
a change; not to allow our future teachers to take "relevant and rigorous"
content courses in their teaching majors means that our new curriculum cannot be
carried out. Worse, it means that our students are the real losers.
An English and Latin secondary teacher for nearly three decades,
Richard Grieves was the South Lyon High School Teacher of the Year for
2006-2007. He is currently the English Department Facilitator at South Lyon East High School.