Thursday, May 8, 2008

teacher man dictionary

So I'm sitting here with an enormous stack of papers on my desk--roughly 2/3 of which are graded--and I know that when I pass them back, students are going to ask me to decode my comments. For example, "What does 'meh' mean?" Or "Why did you write 'B.S.' on my paper?" And I bet that when you were in school, you had these same questions but were too afraid to ask. So as a public service, I give you the teacher man dictionary:

This is a question mark. If you've written something so incomprehensible that I'm not even sure what my question is, I write a question mark. If you see this, you have made an error so significant that I'm not even sure what you were trying to do in the first place.

This is an exclamation point. It means that you've said something truly crazy. If you mention the possibility that students could chew turkey bones instead of gum during class, you get a !. If you compare Of Mice and Men to Pimp My Ride, you get a !. And if you don't think that these things have actually happened, you're clearly not a teacher.

If students ask, I tell them that this is an abbreviation for "Be Specific" because they're making vague assertions and need to tighten them up. That's a lie. It means their paper is bullshit.

I'm not sure I understand
Similar to the ?, but I'm trying to be kind. You're probably not a very good writer, and I feel that the question mark would confuse you. Still, you've said something incomprehensible. And you know it's pretty serious because it was even more incomprehensible than all the other stuff I was reading, and that's saying something.

It's like an OK. It just means that you've technically done what you were supposed to, but it didn't exactly knock me out of my seat. Meh. For example, if your concluding sentence says something like "And that is why Big Foot High School should start school 45 minutes later," then you get a "meh."

Omit needless words!
This comes from The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. It's Rule #13, and it's the one my students violate most often. "The ground was covered in frozen precipitation." You mean snow? "He directed his vision toward her." You mean he looked at her? (For more on this topic, read "The Battle for Precision," by George Saunders.)

Obviously, I want everyone to proofread, which begs the question, Why only make note of it on certain papers? Well, I expect juniors and seniors in high school to make occasional comma errors or misuse semicolons once in a while. I do not expect them to forget to capitalize people's names or write "teh" when they mean "the" in a formal essay. When they do this enough, I explode and write "proofread!" Then I draw a line where I got fed up and quit editing for grammar errors. Sometimes I curse.

Reading Rainbow
I encourage my students to begin their papers with an attention-getter, and several of them fall back to this kind of predictable garbage: "Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in New York City during the 1920's? In The Great Gatsby, the characters do exactly that." And when I read that, I write "Reading Rainbow."

What is the purpose of this paragraph?
This is a bad one. You have "developed" an entire paragraph, and it's not clear to me why it's there. It serves no purpose. You clearly heard me say "5-paragraph essay" and realized that you only had 4. So you wrote 6-8 sentences of "be specific" and called it a day. Shame on you.

You're capable of better
I'm angry at you. You're not taking this assignment or this class seriously. You're a slacker. Get your act together.

So there you have it. I certainly hope that that was helpful for you.

Wait. I can do better...

I hope that was helpful for you.


I hope that was helpful.
Hope that was helpful.
Hope that helps.

There we go.

Later gators.


Stacy said...

I think I'm going to try using "meh" when I grade the stack of papers on my desk. I, too, use the ? and also a more sympathetic yet to-the-point variation: "I'm not sure where you are going with this..."

"Reading Rainbow" is a great one, too. I usually write "speech-like" because that's how everyone in middle school starts a speech (Have you ever wondered what it was like to fight in Vietnam? Tim O'Brien talks abou that in The Things They Carried.)

Claire said...

Is an exclamation point ever good? And now I have the Reading Rainbow song in my head. Thank you very much.

The Ben Show said...

I always used "awk" all the time. "This is awkward, this too is awkward. You entire paper is awkward!"