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.