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Archive for the tag “grammar”

Friday Photo: Doritos Birthday Love

“What do I find priceless about [Pennsylvania]?  Fall colors.  Open spaces.  School buses.  Soft cookies.  Bacon.  Beautiful Hollywood cinematography.  Swedish fish.  DORITOS NACHO CHEESE.”
–  my journal, March 8, 2008, Talange, France


In the course of human events, I’ve learned that my deepest life loves seem to be more evident to me when I’m abroad.  I remember sitting on my creaky wrought-iron bed in my apartment in Talange, France, with my journal splayed open before me, thinking, “Yeah. I could KILL for Doritos.  Like, right now.”

But I’m not abroad, not right now anyway.  I’m living a moderately-controlled, semi-normal life, with a structured job teaching grammar.  But what I’ve found is that my secret passions, the ones you don’t bring up in polite conversation, still come out — in my grammar sentences, of all things.

“You see,” I say, facing a class and beaming, “‘Doritos’ is plural.  So when acting as a subject, ‘Doritos’ would have to be paired with the plural verb, such as in the sentence, ‘Doritos are my favorite snack.'” I write the sentence on the whiteboard in squeaky black marker.  “What if you flip it around?  ‘My favorite snack is Doritos’?  Then Doritos becomes the predicate nominative, making the verb agree with the subject, which is now singular.  Neat, huh?!”

But to be honest, I’m not the type of person that has a stash of Doritos snack bags in the pantry for lunches every day.  I’m not even the one always responsible for those bright sparkling bags of chips that show up mysteriously at your appetizer table, the bags that I always somehow seem to finish.

I rarely even buy Doritos.  Except for that time in 2008 when I was in the deserted town of Beersel, Belgium, with my boyfriend Jon, and we noticed that Spicy Thai Chili Doritos were actually sold in Europe.  (I seized one bag which we shared for lunch with some pigeons and a bar of chocolate.)  Or that time that when Jon and I accompanied Anne Timothy to Newark Airport at 2:00 in the morning, and I made Anne buy us Doritos when we stopped for gas.

Today, my eighth grade students surprised me with a gift for my upcoming October 12 birthday: six brightly-colored bags of Doritos in multiple flavors, which they insisted I “save for later” while they divvyed up the streamers and chocolate icecream pudding cake.  As they ate, they were surely thinking merrily about Doritos as direct objects and objects of preposition, receivers of the action in passive voice and givers of the verb in active.

But I was thinking about the Doritos, and how maybe my students know something I don’t acknowledge.

When teaching, I am in denial of a lot of things: the constant worry that I’m interesting, the worry that I really don’t know what I’m talking about, the concern that I’m nothing but a French grammar Eiffel Tower freak.  I acknowledge openly to a lot of people that teaching is a tiring job, sometimes too tiring.  But despite this, I also deny that I secretly love having a classroom because through it I have the ability to share with my students what I don’t share with other people who are close to me: stories about growing up, the fears I held in high school, the poetry I wrote at age 15.

I know my students through their behavior, attitudes, and grades, but they also know me, too: the lies I told my sister Andrea about eating soap (and how this relates to trust), the emails I get in my inbox (and how the grammar of some of them helps me detect fraud), the difficulties of teaching in France (and how French relates to English).

As I teacher, I overemphasize and underemphasize facets of myself in order to make a point.  But with a gift of Doritos, my students pinpointed something different: that they knew me too in a different way than some.  By giving me a gift of a part of myself that I thought was an exaggeration, I realized that they had found a truth.  I was excited to have six bags of Doritos for my very own.  Like, I’ve-been-stranded-in-France-for-six-months excited.

“What am I supposed to do with all these?” I asked the students, feigning confusion.  “Save them for the Super Bowl?”

Yes, I thought.  The Super Bowl.  American upon American.

I opened a bag of my sacred Spicy Thai Chili, took a handful, and humbly passed the chips to my left: breaking bread with those who had read me between the lines.

Doritos Birthday Love, October 2011

Adverb Questions

In teaching an eighth grade English grammar class today, we discussed the questions that adverbs answer: when (dance now!), where (sit down!), how (sing merrily!), how often (sneeze frequently!), and to what extent (abandon completely!).  I had a student trace stencils and put these questions on a poster that I hung above my whiteboard, right in plain sight of the students when they doze off in the middle of a grammar lesson, as I expect they do.  (Grammar is hardly stimulating.)  But the poster also mentions a final question that adverbs sometimes answer: “Why.”

The grammatical reasons why adverbs provide this answer are complicated, but the use of adverbs that answer this question is not.  It’s the questions most frequently asked by toddlers: Why is the sky blue?  Why are boys different the girls?  Why (as I once asked myself), if everyone likes pizza, don’t we just eat chicken and pizza every day?  The process of asking “why” diminishes as we age, but I, like Michel Faure, who asked in the Spring 2011 column of France Magazine, questioned today the reason why we stop questioning.

“All children are philosophers.  They aren’t aware of it,” Faure writes.  He explains that, like most intellectuals, children are simply looking for the Truth of what the world is and how they fit into it.  However, for most of us, philosophy stops at school, that institution that helps condition us to fit into society.  Students are taught to measure margins, type properly, and write papers to the hundrenth word.  That helps people become good, productive, and organized citizens, but that particular adverb “why” can become lost.

As an English teacher, I’ve often felt confined by the grammar-centric portion of my curriculum.  However, beneath the structure of the words that we speak, the words and their meanings still remain.  Getting a student to understand “what” is the focus of his essay is hard enough; being dedicated to him the “why” behind his writing is even harder.

Ninth Grade 2010

Jumping with Grammar Joy, 2010

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