Tales out of school

Michael Cook, editor of Mercatornet.com, tells this story about learning grammar under his Year 8 teacher, Sister Margaret Louise.

“She was an elderly lady with a big heart, a ferocious temper and a passion for grammar. We knew our way around past and present participles, subjunctive and indicative moods and split infinitives. We had to. There was hell to pay if we didn’t.”

Boy does this story ever bring back memories of my own school days. We too had an English teacher – I’ll call her Miz E – who terrorized us. She used to pick out words in sentences in our textbooks, then randomly call on us students to name the parts of speech the words belonged to.

One word was “port” – as in, any port in a storm. My luckless classmate, when called upon, answered that it was a verb. Miz E fixed her with the steely-eyed glare that invariably made us feel like butterflies being pinned to cork.

“A verb? Tell me, how do you port? Come up here in front and show us how to port.”

If you have ever found yourself torn between laughter and horror, you will know how my class felt that day.

As we grew older and less awestruck by Miz E, we got used to her, and she in turn got used to our foibles. By the time we graduated we were good buddies. I think we won her heart one March 15th, when we remembered that it was the Ides of March – years after we had studied Julius Caesar with her in freshman English Lit.

And I will never forget learning how to diagram sentences in her Composition class – the sheer pleasure of laying bare the beautiful bones of language, and knowing that each part has a name and a purpose, and works with the other parts to give meaning to the whole. I think the lessons we learn at school go far beyond what we expect or realize.


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