'Hope' is the thing with feathers— That perches in the soul— And sings the tune without the words— And never stops—at all— From Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, an American poet. Born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830 - 1886
When setting out on any journey it’s good to have some sort of goal in mind. Back in 2006 my goal was a simple one. I wanted to be a writer. I had some success already by having a several of nonfiction articles published and to my surprise I had even been paid for them. After spent over twenty-five years researching my family history, I had uncovered a few interesting family stories, plus I grew up in an unusual place. How many people can write about growing up at a watermill.
Soon my nonfiction articles were being rejected. This put me off writing them so decided to write a novel. That’s when I learnt that writing fiction was different to nonfiction. You had to draw your reader into the action, and hold their attention. The ‘How to’ books I had read told me I had a lot to learn but my main concern was not fully understanding how English grammar worked. Working full time in a low paying job meant I had neither the money nor free time and I had a young son to support. I had check out mainstream writing courses at the local college, both evening and daytime ones, but these were expensive. Most information on writing, to be published, I could gain from books, but grammar I found hard to understand. it was like learning a foreign language and went completely over my head. So Brushing up on English Basic Skill seemed like a great idea. So I thought 🤦♀️
Day 8 of 32: No Sign of Light on the Horizon.
The weather has changed, bringing with it wind and rain. The path to the college was covered with brightly coloured fallen leaves. I was the first to arrive closely followed by Mr C, who cheerfully told me, he’d been very busy sorting out his office.
I asked him when we entered the classroom if he had our folders. He smiled brightly. “Yes, they are in the filing cabinet over there.”
For the first time as each of the students arrived, they were able to have their folder at the beginning of the class. In each of the folders was a form we should have been filling in at the end of each lesson to say what we had learnt, and what we thought of the lesson but because Mr C was so disorganised we haven’t been filling them in.
This week, there was Mr C plus two classroom assistants and eight students. I asked if he had brought back the rest of my synopsis, he had been looking at it for me. He said he knew I was going to ask about it, so he had. Now two weeks ago, he told me he had been through it, and had corrected it for me. Therefore, I was a little surprise when he gave it back to me while the rest of the class was busy working, unmarked. He then sat with me and quickly went through it. I asked him if he could tell me where my weaknesses were in my writing. He erred for a second. I thought he might not have understood what I had said, and asked him if it was my tenses. He smiled and said yes, but he could sort that. I then asked if we would be covering the tenses in future lessons. “We will be covering everything,” he said. I told him I wanted to learn more about grammar.
I should have told you, dear readers, Thursday night’s lesson was about the use of the Hyphen. This in itself was interesting, but when Mr C said brightly, he was please to tell us that this was the last lesson in which he would be covering grammar and made a gesture of drawing a blade across his throat.
I was shocked.
Most of the books I had read showed me we had only dip our toes into the Grammar Ocean. Most of the class had no understanding of verbs or adjectives, I knew. Ms Giggles had brought it up in at least three lessons that she didn’t fully understand. Ms 40 something had said she would like to go back over all the lessons again, because she still wasn’t sure she fully understood either.
He gave seven of us a worksheet. There were four questions with four different examples of the same question with hyphened words in. Each was a short paragraph, which talked about genetic engineering, and cloning. Each had a slightly different set of words hyphened.
For question one, six of them were working in pairs on solving it. I worked alone as I was sitting on my own (It was just how the class seated themselves when they came in.) Motorbike Dave was working with one of the classroom assistants.
I asked Mr C a question about the first question on the worksheet. When he came over, he smiled, and said it was good that I was thinking. That didn’t really answer my question, so I carried on with the next one on the sheet. When he came back, he went through my answers and told me, I had them all right.
Ms Giggles asked a question about one of the questions on the sheet. She wanted to know what was meant by ‘A real-world situation?’ She asked him to explain it to her, as she didn’t fully understand the context in which it was written. Mr C just read the question out to her. Ms Giggles shook her head. “I don’t understand what a real-world situation means in the context in which it has been given. I don’t even understand what the paragraph is talking about anyway.” She then just gave up as Mr C ignored her and went on to talk about the next worksheet he wanted us to work on.
My heart went out to her when I saw the look of defeat on her face. I wanted to cross the room and explain it to her, but I didn’t as there was a classroom assistant sitting with her.
The next sheet I got completely wrong. He wanted us to make the words into adjectives, the first one he did for us.
Nature – Natural Finance: Biology – Culture – Universe – Industry – Ecology-
Environment- Geography etc.
I told Mr C that I wasn’t sure if I was doing the exercise correctly. He seemed puzzled. I said I felt it would’ve been better if he had used different words. He laughed and said that would’ve been far too easy. I explained that I understood what the words meant; I just didn’t understand what it was he wanted us to do with them. Ms Giggles told him she had no idea what some of the words even meant in the first place.
For homework, Mr C wanted us to write a short story of about 200 to 300 words long or longer if we wanted to. We had to set the scene and to imagine a woman walking into a room. She stands still for a few moments and then walks over to the fireplace. She looks at a picture over the fireplace for a few moments before walking over to the telephone and dials a number.
We had to fill in the details and give the piece a mood. Is it sad, is it dangerous, a mystery or a ghost story. He doesn’t want us to tell him but to show him. He told us to think of a colour, think of an occasion in our own lives. To describe someone we know and to try to use onomatopoeic words.
The class, including one of the classroom assistant asked what did onomatopoeic mean. Mr C laughed, and said “I thought you might ask me that. I like the word and never had a chance to use it.”
One of the foreign students asked Mr C to explain when you would use the words ‘Who and whom. Mr C said he couldn’t really explain the difference, only that you use whom when you put the word ‘To’ in front of it as in ‘To Whom.’ Then he went on to explain that people in this country don’t speak properly, and it’s not taught properly in the classroom unlike in his grandfather’s time. His grandfather could tell you because in his day you were expected to know it.
So there you have it, dear readers, straight from the horse’s mouth. The British schools were not teaching English properly according to Mr C.