Monday, January 17, 2005


Neil took his first class from me about a year ago. From the first sentence of his first quiz, he impressed me with his very interesting and original ideas and his utter inability to express most of them clearly. With a lot of digging and jotting notes to myself on scratch paper, I could work out his meaning, and it was always fresh and new, but buried under mounds of errors in syntax, punctuation, grammar and spelling.

I'm not trained in the teaching of basic grammar skills. I'm still not sure how to define "clause" or "participle." I did present Neil with an extra copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and tried to explain that we don't write the way we speak and that sometimes the best proof-reading happens when an essay is read out loud. I circled and crossed out mistakes, and tried to rewrite sentences. I crossed my fingers.

(Here Sam rolls his eyes and thumps his tail in weary understanding... He's probably heard more of my prose than anyone has or can ever read. I digress.)

One class was not enough. Neil signed up for a second and a third. ("I'm going to get a minor in Professor Lemming!") Slowly but slowly, his prose has gotten better and the terrific ideas have really begun to shine through. He's gained in confidence as well, learning that his instincts are good and his family's many road trips to historic sites can inform his writing, actively and passively. (I am convinced that his folks must own a camper, as Neil has family snapshots from all over the country.) The writing is still a struggle, particularly homophones. He has mastered the correct use of it's and its, which delights me no end.

The department gave Neil an extension for his latest class, so that he could attend a family funeral. His final exam crossed my desk today. He managed to fill a blue book (all pages and the back cover) with his usual brilliance, without a single error in spelling or grammar. Thrilled to bits, I dropped him an e-mail with the results.

Naturally his delighted reply included three misused their/theres and a plural subject with a singular verb. I don't care. HE DID IT!!! This means that someday, somehow, he will do it again.

The popular slogan, at least in Indiana, is to make MLK day "A Day On, Not a Day Off." Instead of sleeeping in and shopping at the mall, MLK calls us to do something positive and productive for others with our time. Neil has earned a day off - but only one. Tomorrow, I expect him to be on. After all, this semester means class #4, and I expect him to do it again.

Words Written: (hits head againist heavy object)
Lessons Graded: one

No comments: