OK, maybe I’m being an asshole, but I just read a blog post in which the author is praising one of his former teachers for making him a writer.  Unfortunately, the blog post has some really sloppy errors that severely detract from the honor that this author is trying to bestow upon his former teacher.  I appreciate the intended sentiment of the blog post, but the carelessness of the prose is ridiculous, especially given that the author is a practicing, professional writer.

For my part, let me say congratulations to Mrs. Liechty for being a positive influence on a young student, and on many young students over your career, I hope you enjoy your retirement.

OK, back to the meat of my post.  I know, it’s blog post, people shouldn’t have to fully diagram every sentence that appears in a blog post to properly identify subject, predicate, objects, and antecedents.  If one truly practices proper writing, those things should all flow naturally.  Let me be clear, I’m not talking about dippy little typos (although those shouldn’t happen very often with the ubiquitous spellcheck that even WordPress uses put a red line under words that do not appear in its dictionary…), I’m talking about grammatical and editing errors that leave the reader thinking “What did that just say?” when finishing a sentence.

Just in case anyone is wondering, I didn’t miss one of the main points of the story.

I explained that I stunk at writing. I thought she would know that better than most given that she was the one who graded my papers. She noted there is a difference between grammar and syntax and storytelling. Grammar, spelling and syntax are very important, but they’re not the only parts of writing. There’s also creativity and imagination — the same muscles in my brain I used to draw the Hulk smashing tanks and spaceships.

Grammar and syntax are indeed only one aspect of writing, but that does not mean they should be ignored, any more than storytelling, creativity or imagination should be ignored.  That’s why good storytellers often have editors who can (hopefully) clean up the grammar and syntax.  Do blog authors have editors?  Probably not, but this author is a professional writer who is trying to pay homage to an influential teacher; I think he might be able to impose upon an editor friend to give his blog post a quick read.

There are some things that are grammatically questionable, but they can be understood as being stylistic flair.  I don’t mind stylistic flair.  Really.  Sometimes, those little bits of stylistic flair show up so often that they don’t seem like stylistic flair, they just seem like a complete disregard for sentence structure.  If every sentence begins with a conjunction, that bit of stylistic flair loses its punch and becomes cumbersome to the reader.  Especially when a paragraph starts with a conjunction. <facepalm>

As is often the case with blog posts, this one starts out well, but as the post continues, it seems like the author either got tired of writing, or got tired of proofreading.  Here are some of the problems in this post:


The teacher I hated who changed my life

“One day, Mrs. Liechty assigned us to write what we did this morning in our journals.”  This is a picky little bit of temporal agreement, since this is something that happened in the relatively distant past, it should be “what we did that morning”.

“I’ll wing it. I’ll make it up as I go.”  Again, temporal agreement.  Since this all happened in the past it’s not “I will…”, but “I would…”

“This was worse that fourth grade.”  Typo.  “than

“We wrote biographies, autobiographies, fiction, poetry and, of course, themes with a topic sentence, a minimum of supporting paragraphs in the body and the closing that was either a restatement of the thesis or final statement on the topic but never an introduction of a new idea.”  I love seeing this lovely structure being taught, but I think there’s an omission here that really scrambles up the meaning of the sentence.  As written, it sounds like there should be as few supporting paragraphs as possible in the theme.  Although brevity is appreciated, perhaps this should read “…a minimum number of supporting paragraphs in the body…” or “…a minimum required number of supporting paragraphs in the body…”.  Maybe not really wrong in this case, but maybe not especially clear either.

“And while I liked school for the general camaraderie and the break it gave me from worrying. But the lessons, however important, just failed captivate me.”  The “And…” makes this a dependent clause, but I’ll chalk that up to stylistic flair.  The problem here is that even without the “And”, this is a hanging dependent clause.  “…while I liked school…” is the introduction of a dependent clause.  It requires an independent clause upon which it can depend.  It looks like the intended dependent clause material is in the next sentence, but the inclusion of the “But…” makes that a dependent clause as well.  The simplest remedy would be “And while I liked school for the general camaraderie and the break it gave me from worrying, the lessons, however important, just failed captivate me.”  Some may not like the number of commas piling up in that sentence {actually, that complex dependent clause), so it might be better to rewrite.

“I filed the book, front and back.”  Typo?  “filled”?

“My fingers strum he way Pete Townsend attacks his guitar.”  Typo.  “the”

“Mrs. Liechty made our peace years later.”  Is that supposed to be “Mrs. Liechty and I”?

Are schools aren’t awful, they’re just not ideal. There’s work that needs done, that’s a certainty.”  Wow.  Spectacularly sloppy.  “Our schools…” and “needs to be done”

“I would be a lesser without her lessons.”  Is “lesser” supposed to be serving as a noun here?  It could be, but in the flow and context, it seems like it should be an adjective modifying a noun such as “…a lesser person…” or “…a lesser writer…”

“I was speaking at her class in Winterset.” Perhaps stylistic here, but “speaking to her class” seems a little smoother to me.

I hope the author doesn’t view this as a vicious personal attack because it’s really not.  I’m sure I have a couple typos and/or grammatical errors in the text that I’ve written in this post, so I shouldn’t be too vigorous in my finger-pointing.  The point is that with a little care and a little bit of proofreading, we can ALL make out writing better.  No one has to be the world’s foremost authority on sentence structure and diagramming to pay a little bit of attention to things like nouns and verb and prepositions and conjunctions, Schoolhouse Rock does a good job at hitting the high points.

Regarding the title of this post, that’s a reflection of my personality.  Although I appreciate being recognized for doing a good job, all the words of praise in the universe don’t mean a thing compared to seeing positive results.  I teach chemistry.  If every one of my students got together and organized a rally to tell the world that I was the best teacher they ever had, I’d be flattered (and incredibly uncomfortable!), but it would mean thousands of times more if every one of those students finished my class with a firm grasp of the material, even if they didn’t particularly like me.