Your Fifth-Grade Teacher Versus
… Well, Me

When I was a kid, some of my best friends were teachers. What grade was I in when my teacher read aloud to us every day after lunch? The Story of Doctor Doolittle (by Hugh Lofting, published 1920) influenced me in many more ways than just giving me a delight for books. Now that I’m a grown-up (most of the time), some of my real-life friends are teachers (college, high school, grammar school), some of my authors are teachers, some of my neighbors are teachers. The Boy, too, has an education degree and uses it.

I love you guys. It’s a sacred work you do.

And you’ll be glad to know your work lives on, in ways large and small, years and years after you’ve patted the little darlings on their heads and promoted them to the next grade.

I’m talking about all those grammar and spelling and punctuation rules you English teachers taught your students, the rules they now want to fight about with me. (No joke. Last year I did a copyedit for an older gentleman who took my beautiful first pass and “corrected” my “mistakes.”)

This has happened before and not just to me. One of my personal editor heroes, the Subversive Copy Editor, made me smile with an article she titled “English Teacher Bullies?” (Read it before you let that title bother you too much.) Yes, she’s got stories of English teachers (and editors) run amok, but concludes, “Rules are the floats young learners cling to while learning to swim.” And she’s absolutely right. Those fundamentals will stand you in good stead when you get down in the deep end of the pool.

The problem, of course, is I end up with myriad sentences from which I have to extract commas placed around names (of characters, of book titles) because every name should have commas on both sides of it, right? (Not always. You can read about appositives here. Or in your copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, which is where I did.) Everybody learned that one in school, and I’ve had authors ready to go toe-to-toe with me, defending a little #writetip they learned as a young student.

Teachers: Well done! It stuck!

Authors: Who are you going to believe? Me, Your Editor, living in the here and now of contemporary* grammar “rules,” such as they are? Or that teacher you had in fifth grade (and we won’t discuss just exactly how long ago that was)? I can’t help you if you won’t let me.

* Remember, these things change over time. There’s a reason the Chicago Manual of Style revises and issues a new edition on a regular basis.

 

Tweet: Teachers: I love you guys. It’s a sacred work you do.
Tweet: I’ve had authors ready to go toe-to-toe, defending a #writetip they learned decades ago.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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