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Friday, August 18, 2006

Those who can teach...

According to a story on the BBC website, many trainee teachers are flunking even basic literacy and numeracy tests.

The most telling quote in the article is this:
"The average age of teacher recruits these days is 30. So a lot of them will have come through school at a time when spelling and punctuation were thought to inhibit creativity."

I couldn't agree more. As a 29 year old, I fall well into this category as do many of my friends.
I had the great misfortune of attending school under the previous Conservative Government. This bunch of hapless fuckwits destroyed teaching in England and Wales (and in Scotland also, since despite the separate educational systems they implemented many of the same ideas and listened to the same "experts").

Despite being highly literate, my grammar teaching was almost non-existent. Although I have always read for pleasure, automatically shunning books that I "should" read, in favour of more enjoyable Science Fiction or Thriller titles, I nevertheless had pretty high standards and whilst my teachers bemoaned the lack of Jane Austin etc, they were satisified that Isaac Asimov was a suitable substitute.

I do not exagerate when I claim that my sole knowledge of grammar and its associated terminology comes from learning French. Beyond the the definition of a noun, I couldn't tell you what the terms adjective, verb or tense actually meant until I had to be taught them at the age of 14 for GCSE French. Similarly, many of the rules of punctuation had to be learnt the hard way. It probably hasn't escaped your notice that I am comma happy, scattering them far and wide in the hope that at least some land in the correct place.

I did learn how to use apostrophes correctly, but the semi-colon remains a mystery. My PhD supervisor covered every draft I gave him with red punctuation marks - and I freely admit that it would have been even worse without the aid of those little green squiggles that MS Word helpfully places underneath crap sentences. I know full well, that if I were to use Word to blog, the posts would be almost unrecognisable.

But perhaps it is my fault, and I am passing the blame for my own failings onto others?

I don't believe so. I have spoken to older teachers in their 50s (who taught my generation) and they admit that the government of the day (and especially Mr Baker, the then education secretary) discouraged them from using "old-fashioned" "boring" teaching methods such as formal grammar and punctuation exercises. The spelling test remained, although it was reward based with prizes as an incentive. I clearly remember my first French teacher taking a bemused class of 12 year olds through the differences between "doing words" and "describing words". Of course, we knew intuitively what the were, but had only a working grasp of their formal rules.

When I apologised to my PhD supervisor for the amount of red ink he expended on my thesis, his response was a resigned shrug
"It's entirely normal for someone your age. We have had meetings about it"

And here's the kicker, do you know what his advice was for future documents that I need to write?
"Run it by one of the foreign language students first, they can correct your grammar and punctuation."

And he was absolutely right. Says it all really doesn't it?



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