Inadvertent Parallelism

Sometimes it’s not the things students write, but what they say. I recall overhearing a couple of students as they walked into our building after lunch. Keep in mind, as you eavesdrop with me, that the only classes taught in this building are English classes of one level or another.

Student One: What class do you have right now?

Student Two: English.

Student One, blithely: Okay.

I was hard-pressed to keep a straight face. Of course English!

So where does parallelism come into it? I have taught The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet a few too many times. In I:i, we see this conversation:

Benvolio: Tell me in sadness, who is it that you love?

Romeo: […] In sadness cousin, I do love a woman.

Benvolio: I aimed so near, when I supposed you loved.

Romeo’s response to his cousin’s query produces in the audience the same “Gee, really?” response that I experienced while listening to the two students. It is Benvolio’s dry response, however, that makes Shakespeare’s version rise to the heights of literature while the poor students I overheard will go down in very few annals of history for their witticisms.

“It’s Elementary, my dear Watson!”

I’m sure I’ve had a few stellar conversational gambits of my own–please don’t think I make fun of these things because I’m infallible. I just enjoy them so. I hope that my own oddities and “duh” moments provided someone else with the amusement I derive from the ones I’ve collected over the years. After all, “for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 57).

Do pardon the jumble of literary references in this post. I have read enough that allusions are a standard part of my conversational vocabulary.

Anne Frank had a Dairy?

I was taught to be observant, and to take note of things of interest. I recall family conversations centering around misplaced modifiers (now that I teach them, I know what they are called)–those intriguing bits of sentences that make you tip your head to one side and look puzzled, if you pay attention. They have always amused me. Now, I wish I could draw the wealth of fun word pictures unknowingly provided me by perfectly serious students.

Julien Dupré “A Milkmaid With Her Cows On A Summer Day”

The first studentism I collected was during my student teaching. I planned and taught a unit, all on my own, to a class of 8th grade honors English students. It taught me many things, not the least of which that Anne Frank, with all due respect, had a dairy. It is a simple typo that I happened to see far too many times as I graded that first set of essays. But the crowning glory was when I learned that “In the dairy of Anne Frank, Anne and her family lived for two years in the attic of her father’s factory, which was behind a bookshelf.” (I’m afraid I can’t cite any of my studentisms; I didn’t keep any attributing information to protect the innocent.) It left me wondering: how big was that infamous bookshelf?

Not Anne Frank’s father’s factory bookshelf–but a very cool bookshelf nonetheless.

That was the first time I realized that a teacher really ought to know how to draw. It also made it difficult to take any of the essays on a very poignant, serious subject seriously at all.

As mentioned previously, I have collected an alarmingly large number of these little gems in the years since. I do hope you enjoy them as I do. They certainly make grading hundreds of essays more palatable.

Introducing Studentisms

Higher Learning?

Learning. It’s something we all do, and I hope I never choose to stop. For teachers, learning is our livelihood, our calling. In one sense, we learn anew each day that we can inspire hope and dreams. In another, we learn continuously how much work there is to be done. Some students arrive in our classrooms woefully unprepared not only for what we are teaching, but for many other aspects of life. Do we teach our subject matter, or responsibility? At the end of the day, which is more important?

Our leaders have realised that the educational system is broken, but their attempts to fix it appear to have gone awry. This often leaves the teachers feeling bitter, overwhelmed, and helpless as they watch students raised to the almighty test try (or not try) year after year to reach “proficiency” and wonder how this will really prepare our kids for life after high school. Life isn’t about multiple choice “bubble tests.” We should certainly aspire for more than mere proficiency! Yet that is the accepted measure of our success as educators.

It means we steal moments of time from the proscribed course of study to teach life, which many of our students have experienced only via a screen. They stare blankly, wishing the “commercial” would end so they can get on with what they’re forced to do. Some are forced to wait for the rest of the students to catch up while others are forced to attend school at all. It’s an interesting mix.

However! This blog is not about that. This blog is about the comic relief frequently found from those same students. I call them studentisms: typos, wrong usage, dangling modifiers, malapropisms, and anything that gives amusement while grading papers. After having collected them for a time, I pulled a phrase from a persuasive essay. I no longer recall what the essay was trying to argue, but the phrase reads, “all of their innocent killings.” The clouds parted; the angels sang. I had a title for my collection! It has morphed into “Our Innocent Killings” because no one is perfect, and we all kill the language at some point. I do hope you enjoy the journey with me.