KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Phlegmsy Teaching Method

My kindergartner's journey to readerhood and his current copious nasal congestion reminds me of being in first grade in 1964–1965, when I was learning to read.

Mrs. Gray, the teacher, had all of us students standing up, looking at the letters of the alphabet displayed above the blackboard. Working with one letter at a time, she asked us to say whatever words came to our minds that began with the sound made by that letter. When we got to the letter F, I, being cursed then with constant and prodigious upper respiratory infections, of course said the word phlegm, because the production of phlegm and what to do with it when one inadvertently coughed some up were topics I pondered often. The teacher stared at me and said, "Flem isn't a word, dear." I knew she was wrong, that there was such a word, however it was spelled.

I never trusted her again. She returned my mistrust when, later in the year, my classmates and I were reading aloud to one another in small groups while she checked in on each group from time to time. In my group, it was my turn to read. I read much more material than anyone else in any other group had done in the allotted time. She did not believe that I had done so and insisted that I was lying.

I had many good teachers in the years that followed, but I never did forgive that teacher. To this day, when I see or think of the word phlegm, I remember mean old Mrs. Gray, who would not believe a child.


TFLS said...

Isn't it interesting that you and I have similar stories to tell? The teacher that did this to me was in the third grade. I'd always read ahead, you see. I could read faster and with better comprehension than everyone else. My teacher got so mad - she made me sit on a stool in the hall until everyone was finished. I wonder why some people teach if they don't like kids? My best friend Amy is a teacher – and she’s just fabulous! She teaches developmentally disabled kids – and does a fantastic job. I’ve told her for years she should teach teachers how to teach – she’s that good. You know - I used to run a Theatre School for children. We had programs that fit everyone’s needs – even autistic. I love kids – and I love working with them. Don’t you wish all teachers did?

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

From about first grade through early college, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. When I took the very first step in the education program of observing teachers on the job, it hit me that I just wasn't cut out for teaching. I went on to become a journalist and then a book editor. I wish everyone would end up in professions that they enjoy. It works out so much better for those on the job and for those they must deal with.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. This woman reminds me of my 7th grade English teacher. We read The Hobbit that year, and she tried to force us to do so by following along with a recording. I couldn't make myself read that slowly, and she hated it that I was turning pages too quickly.

TFLS, it really is a shame that some people choose to become teachers when they don't like children. I think there are fewer of them now, since women have more opportunity in other fields, but when I was in school, teaching was one of very few choices women had if they wanted a career. And some of them took out their resentment over those limitations on the kids who were their captive audience.

Anonymous said...

I still remember when my Latin teacher told me "missive" wasn't a word. I dropped out of Latin after that.

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