Friday, December 29, 2006

Corrections That Are Incorrect

Back when I was in college, my Spanish teacher thought it was his job to enlighten us about news of which we should be socially conscious (rather than simply teach us how to speak Spanish). This was around the time that every bleeding heart rock singer and his brother were using the situation in South Africa to advance their media exposure. It was also while Nelson Mandela was still in jail.

This teacher asked the class if they knew what the problem was called and I raised my hand and said "apartheid" pronouncing it correctly and he reiterated my reply by saying "a-par-THede". He clearly was pronouncing it incorrectly but was not so subtly attempting to "correct" me.

Among the things I've overheard many times while working as a teacher is other teachers offering up corrections which are incorrect, giving out incorrect information, serving up dubious theories, and making serious grammatical errors themselves. My husband says he overhears a fair amount of such behavior in his work as well, particularly from certain specific teachers.

One of my former coworkers (who was a total nightmare) had the "dog" and "cat" theory of personality which he felt students needed to know and understand. I never really sat through the whole lecture but multiple exposure to snippets of his bizarre theory indicated that bad people were supposed to have the personality of dogs and good people that of cats (or vice versa). I can only imagine what the students thought of this notion and what it said about western people if they felt it necessary to reverse-anthropomorphize themselves in such a fashion.

Even when the students know the teacher is wrong (as was the case with my Spanish teacher and myself) or full of baloney (as was the case with the "dog" and "cat" guy), they don't say anything. In some cases, they resist out of uncertainty. In others, they don't want to anger the teacher out of fear about how it'll affect their grade or rapport with the teacher. I'm guessing in some cases it's also about being polite.

To be honest, I occasionally misspeak and make a grammatical error (as I'm sure everyone does) but I always correct myself. I think some people are embarrassed to acknowledge a slip of the tongue with self-correction and some people aren't aware that they're making mistakes. Teachers aren't perfect, no matter how educated they are or how hard they try. Still, it's hard not to cringe when you hear someone reinforcing a mistake with students or making their correct English incorrect.


mitzh said...

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Shari said...

Thank you so much for all your kind comments, denille, and it'd be great if you put me in your links. I'm giving your blog a read ASAP. Have a great New Year's holiday!

Tokyo Rosa said...

shari, your posts are always so thought provoking!

i saw a fair number of english teachers in japan who were horrible at grammar. (i remember having to define "gerund" for one man who had been an english teacher at ECC for nearly a year. his response, "i've never heard that word before.") but most of the teachers where i was were conscientious about finding and giving correct answers to students. (maybe i was at an especially uncommon school?)

what drove me nuts was not the native speakers who made grammatical mistakes (because let's face it, all native speakers make grammatical mistakes from time to time) but those japanese teachers who could score really high on tests like the TOEIC but who couldn't speak english to save their lives (had horrible pronunciation/enunciation, used big words incorrectly, and spoke rapidly to try to cover up their mistakes, all of which made them all but incoherent). those teachers were like celebrities to the students because they were native japanese who were "better" than native english speakers.

it was a very frustrating situation. however, i think that it is really the schools that are at fault as they don't care enough (and aren't really paying enough) to hire quality teachers.

Shari said...

I'd say your comments are equally thought-provoking, tokyo rosa. :-) They always extend the line of thought.

I taught several people who were high school English teachers when I was at Nova. Some of them were embarrassed enough by their poor English to hide their profession from other students and only revealed it to the teacher when in a man-to-man lesson.

I am amused though that there are Japanese teachers who think they are "better" than native speakers. I'm sure there are Japanese people out there who may speak as well as native speakers and speak more correctly but I'm pretty certain they're not teachers. If you are Japanese and speak that well, you won't be acepting low-paid work like teaching English.