There’s a saying about those who can do, those who can’t teach. The saying comes from a George Bernard Shaw’s four-act drama, ‘Man & Superman.’ The drama’s first production was at the Royal Court Theatre, London 1905. One character was complaining about his writing teacher who had discouraged him by saying his novel was rubbish. The other character replied, “Don’t listen to her, remember those who can’t teach.”
After my fourth evening as a mature student at my local college in 2006, I also believed the saying was true. All these years later, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on English grammar but there again I wouldn’t teach English or creative writing to anyone.
I shall leave you to make up your own mind about Mr C and his teaching skills.
Day 4 of 32.
I was the first to arrive at the classroom, closely followed by the lady who I thought was from Ireland.
“No, she said, “I’m from Holland.”
“Your English is very good. My aunt is from Amsterdam.”
“In my country, we are taught English from the age of nine to 19 years old,” she said.
Ms Bright Smile was the next to join us and the Dutch lady asked her if she could let us in to the room.
“We’re to have a classroom assistant this week,” I said.
“Are we?” Ms Bright Smile said, “Mr C had to have one last year. And there were only four of us then.”
“It’s a good job I came along then,” said a lady who had been quietly waiting to one side of the hallway. We all laughed.
Just as Ms Bright Smile was trying to see if she could remember the code to open the door’s lock, Mr Andrews, the math teacher came by and let us in.
When Mr C arrived, he introduced us to the classroom assistant then chatted to her before starting the lesson. We had to wait a few minutes to see if anyone else would be arriving. This week we had lost four more of our students. Mr C began the lesson by asking the Dutch Lady, “If she ran?”
“Only if I’m late,” was her reply.
He then asked Ms Bright Smile.
“I don’t run, I walk,” was her answer.
Then he turned to me, I smiled and said the same as the Dutch Lady. He asked Ms Giggles if she ran too. By now I was wondering if it was a trick question when he picked up a pile of worksheets and started to hand them out.
“Today, we are going to talk about adverbs.” Mr C read from the BBC Skillswise factsheet. “Adverbs are words that tell us more about verbs. They add information to the verb. Using adverbs makes your sentences more interesting. The girl smiled nervously. This is telling us how the girl smiled, it adds more information.”
On the next sheet we learnt about where you could position an adverb.
At the beginning of a sentence: Suddenly I had earache.
In the middle of a sentence: I suddenly had earache.
Or at the end of a sentence: I had earache suddenly.
I put up my hand and asked a question about adverbs and tenses. Does where you place an adverb in a sentence change the tense of that sentence?
Mr C chatted on about the word, ‘Suddenly,’ and left me feeling pretty stupid and confused. I began to think that maybe I didn’t explain my question well enough for him to understand.
He rushed through the next three fact sheets. These were on spotting adverbs, more about spotting adverbs, and adverbs – degrees of comparison. Both Lady G and I were left feeling confused.
For the rest of the evening we worked our way through the BBC Skillswise work sheets. Mr C came round, and marked our work even though we had the answers to the question already. He had stapled the answer sheet to the work sheets he had given us.
Lady G asked Mr C whether there were any books which explained the rules of English Grammar. Mr C smiled and said there weren’t any golden rules, and he still found grammar very confusing.
I was shocked by his statement. Having a teacher who tells you that he finds grammar complicated is worrying. If he can’t understand it, how on earth was I going to master it?
And, if you are still wondering why Mr C began the lesson by asking us all, if we have been running.
I’ve no idea at all. Oh well, here’s hoping next week is just as exciting.
Of course, my tongue is firmly in my cheek.