June 2008


The fine folks over at Language Log have presented a situation that is rather embarrassing: an English teachers’ association in Queensland, Australia, published a series of articles on grammar that were (to quote LLogger Geoff Pullum) “absolutely incompetent,” and from the looks of things, that’s a touch on the nice side. Whoever wrote these articles had better not be teaching the same – such would result in horribly miseducated students. (I hesitate to take this as an indictment of the organization, except in their poor editorial oversight.)

I agree with what Pullum says about what should have happened:

[T]he incident has turned (as one might have anticipated) into a full-scale assault on the credentials and mental acumen of all Queensland’s hard-working teachers. It might have been better for ETAQ to openly and honestly admit that it had unfortunately published a grammar article that was a complete crock. Memo to all: when you make a mistake, just admit it.

Precisely the point: teachers are not perfect, nor should they ever be expected to be, but they have a professional obligation to have integrity and admit when they have erred, thereafter taking all necessary steps to prevent such a situation from occurring again. I think there is too often the presumption that teachers have to be experts, and while teachers should be competent in their areas of study, it should never be presumed that teachers have nothing to learn about teaching or their content area(s). That is far too much pressure for a teacher, on top of everything else. If teachers can learn this lesson, I would venture to guess that teachers would be esteemed much more highly.

Last Saturday, I took what has probably been the most intimidating assessment of my training as an educator: the Illinois language arts/English content area test. This is a key assessment for me, as passing it is a requirement before student teaching next spring.

What is so strange to me about the test is that there was very information to prepare for it: one study guide on the ICTS website, and that’s it. The study guide spelled out all the objectives for testing, but some of them were so vague as to be unhelpful, and the rest left me wondering how best to study.

Fortunately, I can say that my lack of studying didn’t doom me (at least, not from what I can tell): the test was a mere 125 multiple-choice questions, focusing more on methods, pedagogy, and literacy than the “meat” of language arts (especially literature). I was even amazed that the very small portion of the test that was on literature was in fact not even to test one’s knowledge of literature, just one’s ability to analyze it. The only question I can remember, in fact, that can be construed as rote knowledge was a question asking which authors would be best suited for a middle school classroom. Many of the authors were foreign to me, but fortunately, one of the options included Madeleine L’Engle and Richard Peck, both of whom I had experience with through my previous middle school teaching experience. (Sigh of relief on that one!)

It was also remarkable to me that many of the questions – perhaps even an equal portion – were directed toward middle school classrooms. With so many of my classmates practically swearing off middle school as though it were below them, I was amazed at that. (Side note: I happened to see an old episode of King of the Hill where Peggy is substitute teaching in high school, and one teacher said what I think many high school teachers think about middle school: “This isn’t middle school, this is real life.” A hilarious yet disheartening commentary.)

I won’t hear back about the test for another few weeks, but I have high hopes that I didn’t fail and might – just maybe – have even done well on it. I hope so: if not for anxiety, then for the privilege of not having to pay for the test again. (Sorry, state of IL – you don’t need my $86 that badly.)

It just goes to show that original ideas are hard to come by – especially good ones.

In a recent post, I proposed an annotation system where users could log in and add their own comments to works in the public domain. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and I expressed my surprise that no one had thought of it.

That’s because someone had – several people, actually.

While the second link is licensed, the first is not, and I am currently trying to see how it will work (using Orwell’s essay as a test). I had hoped that I might be able to do something like this (and even had a semi-working prototype), but why reinvent the wheel? Maybe I can take the work that has already been done (since it has been released under a GNU General Public License) and utilize it with a backend system (I have no idea if this system discriminates between users at all).

Here’s to hoping (and thanks in advance, Geof!).