Dear Woman who was my grandson’s English teacher,
I have been biting my tongue since my grandson began your class in January. Seriously. But he graduated today. I can finally speak my mind. He never has to sit in your class and deal with your hubris-filled ineptitude again.
Just so you know, Beowulf is a book length poem. Book length. Seniors in high school should be capable of reading it in its entirety. My grandson was not impressed that you could read the first bit in Old English – I can too. Anyone worth his or her salt with an English degree can, it’s the oldest poem in English.
Lo! the Spear-Danes’ glory through splendid achievements
The folk-kings’ former fame we have heard of,
How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.
Scyld, their mighty king, in honor of whom they are often called Scyldings.
Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers
From many a people their mead-benches tore.
Since first he found him friendless and wretched,
The earl had had terror: comfort he got for it,
Waxed ’neath the welkin, world-honor gained,
Till all his neighbors o’er sea were compelled to
Bow to his bidding and bring him their tribute:
An excellent atheling! After was borne him
A son and heir, young in his dwelling,
Whom God-Father sent to solace the people.
My grandson was profoundly unimpressed that you didn’t think him capable of reading – or comprehending it. Yes, he may have copped an attitude in your class – because that’s what smart kids do when confronted with educators who have no faith in our children. He may have said, that his grandmother taught him these things, or that she is a graduate of Ivy League schools, a college English professor. He may have rolled his eyes at you as you belittled the intelligence of an entire class of kids. Was it your teaching style that inspired the valedictorian to note today, “some of us will never be successful” – was it? Bet it was, good job there.
As an English professor, sister-to-sister, professional-to-professional, let me explain some things to you.
Pieces of literature should be read in their entirety, even if that is challenging for you as a teacher. What message do we send students if we say – this is the oldest piece of literature in your language, but the hell with it, we’ll read excerpts. Let me tell you what message that is… History is unimportant (In a county that erected a civil war monument in the last decade that says the south will rise and conquer again… History might be important); Reading is a waste of time; you, my students, aren’t smart enough to do this; I must dumb it down for you.
And your “chapter book project” – I just can’t even! Students read twenty pages a day, searched for words they didn’t know…then did a poster board presentation? Really? Seniors in high school? In the book my grandson read, he found no words he did not understand – or could not glean understanding from context. He lost points for that. And poster boards are so fourth grade!
Research…God research…According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary, perhaps you’ve heard of it…), Research is the “systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” The very nature of research demands that the student stretch the boundaries of what they know, think outside the box, and look for new ways to attack subject matter. It is not worksheets filled in from specific books, in a poorly funded library (likely poorly funded because we’ve already established that reading is not important, and these kids are going to fail, well you’ve established anyway). Research should engage the student, make him or her reach for more—Imagine my horror when my grandson told me that he couldn’t use the US census website – because you hadn’t approved it, and it wasn’t in the library. Dear Bad English teacher, bless your little heart, the Internet is in every library and the US census bureau does not need your stamp of approval. Your attitude smacks of a hubris that I spend countless weeks undoing in composition classes. You belong in Dante’s Ninth Circle—the castigation meted out by God for hubris—oh wait, should I make you a poster?
And while we are on the subject of research papers, let me teach you a thing or two. Science, medical, and technical papers are written in APA, it’s kind of a rule. Humanities papers in MLA or Chicago, but medical, as you had these high school seniors do, that’s APA. You are not, as you insisted in the meeting in the principal’s office, preparing children for college if you have them write papers about diseases in MLA. That’s wrong. Period, end of conversation. To persecute someone bright enough to call you out on your failure to prepare him for college is, well, hubris.
I used to wonder how my students could come to college so completely unprepared for the rigor of college reading and writing. Thank you so much for clearing that up for me. Now, retire, bitch and let someone who cares about children, who cares about the future, step in.