The Privilege of Proper Pronunciation

I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege and language lately (privilege is probably going to get its own post: there is just too much to talk about). It all started with Buzzfeed. RIGHT?! I admit to following the click bait to their inane lists all the time, but this one seemed interesting: 17 Misused and Made-Up Words That Make You Rage (Totally unrelated side-note. The author of the list has two ridiculously adorable cats, one of whom is missing one of his front legs, and he makes super cute cat-sized hats out of paper. Follow him on Instagram. There will be a book. I will buy it. That is all.) I liked the gifs used, and holy cow did it resonate with me (and I definitely thought of some to add: “would/should/could OF” because we don’t know how contractions work?! Also, when did VERSE become a verb related to competition? Why do people not know what VERSUS is and means? *rage*) Two in particular really got me, as I’ve heard them on TV with alarming frequency: Conversate and Flustrated. There was a chef on one of the last cycles of Hell’s Kitchen who said “flustrated” multiple times every episode. I would silently seethe on the couch, muttering about people not understanding language.

Then I did what you are never supposed to do on the internet: I read the comments. There was a comment talking about the racist and elitist tone of the article and I was so confused. Racist? Elitist? Those seemed like pretty heavy handed accusations for a relatively harmless post about the misuse of language. But as I read the comment (which was remarkably thoughtfully written given the knee-jerk vitriol people usually spill in comment sections) the author remarked on Conversate and Flustrated specifically. They are part of the African American English dialect (formerly known as Ebonics) and the commenter was reflecting on the problems with saying a dialect is “wrong” or not “proper” and the larger issue of this particular dialect most often identifying a specific race and (often, but not always) socio-economic group. When Canadians listen to Newfoundlanders talk (and sure, there are Newfie jokes aplenty) no one is going to flat out say “I’s the B’y” is wrong, it’s just a different dialect. So how fair is it to say AAE is wrong. Interestingly, according to the comment I was reading, conversate has roots in African Americans trying to fit in and NOT sound uneducated and ignorant (conversate developing from a backwards engineering of “conversation”).

My next thought was how could I – a relatively well-educated, well-read, and inquisitive woman – not know about this particular issue of race and class? My minor is in Anthropology and I pride myself in being culturally aware. And that’s when it hit me. I am from a small town where the vast majority of people are white. Additionally, my experience as a Canadian white woman is very different from any American woman of any other race or ethnic group. This is a culture to which I have had limited exposure. In fact, the times I have heard “conversate” and “flustrated” they were used by black women on American reality TV. AAE is not common among black Canadians – at least in my experience and exposure to Canadian media programming and the black Canadians I have seen in those outlets. I am in no way saying that black Canadians do not face racism and issues of class/socio-economics, but it seems to me that their disenfranchisement in Canada hasn’t led to the educational and economic issues that helped create AAE as a dialect (isolated groups with a shared experience/education/socio-economic level being a closed(ish) system which would create a dialect separate from common language). My confusion about the classist and racist implications of the article was not an issue of blindness, but rather it was lack of exposure to the specific situation.

I am an English teacher, and I know that language grows, changes, and evolves, but there are some rules of grammar and punctuation, as well as rules of word meaning, that cannot just be ignored for the sake of progress. There is logic – albeit sometimes confusing – to language, and rather than accept that people don’t “get” it anymore, I believe it’s important to understand the core systems of language (refer to the “should of/have” and “verse” examples in my first paragraph. Hnnng). But as an educator and an (armchair) Anthropologist, I also believe in celebrating and understanding difference. It’s not about saying a dialect is wrong, but rather learning the different words that can be used in different contexts. Dialects and vernacular/colloquial language have a specific context, just as more professional or – dare I say – proper English does. And isn’t that part of the beauty of our language: how it can express so much of what we feel and who we are? How we can marry the ideas of correctness while allowing for diversity? How we can say “I was shocked and surprised by the situation” or “I was completely gobsmacked” or “You could have knocked me down with a feather” or “Right?! I can’t even!” and whichever version we use is chosen for a reason and specific context? Damn I love language.

Here, have some Stephen Fry, and I’ll stop my pedantic whingeing 😀

And then there was that time I didn’t blog for two years…

Ok so, yeah. So a friend and I have been talking about writing and I (foolishly) bemoaned my lame ass attempts at writing. And then he gave me homework to write a thing. So I wrote a thing. It’s kind of meant to be a spoken word style poem, but even then I’m not sure how good it is. I don’t say this in false humility; I am an English teacher and know what literature is an isn’t, and I know my limitations. But, regardless, here I offer up a thing I wrote.

About S’mores.

I’ve been thinking about s’mores.
And how they hold an elusive charm
Of lost youth and sugar-induced idealism.
The things we want in life are encapsulated
In sweet, salty, smoky s’mores:
Richness and depth;
Sweetness, balanced by neutrality and a touch of salt.
But they never tell you about the dirt and char
That surprises you with its ill-timed bitterness;
How the sweetness is too cloying;
The richness is not evenly spread but instead sits like a lump
Either too early to be appreciated
Or too late to be enjoyed.

But the thing about s’mores that you need to know, is that they are magic.
In an instant they transport us
From a jaded adulthood to a childhood where we can build the layers of our life.
The promise of perfection
If we can only balance the parts
That together make a whole worth living.
The richness and depth;
The all too sweet edged with char. Too much, but too soon gone;
And the base, the mundane, the part that is most boring but most important.
The centre and balance to a too sweet, too bitter, too intense life.

So never forget the graham crackers.

The Hunger Games, Found Poetry

I am not a writer nor am I a poet. But I do like to play around with words once in a while and generally I don’t hate the result. I once wrote an extended metaphor poem in about 10 minute as an example for an English 9 class I was subbing for and the kids absolutely loved it; I laughed because I just threw it together. My English 9 class is studying The Hunger Games right now and our next unit is poetry; to bridge the gap I’m assigning a found poem tomorrow and threw together this example tonight. I like it, so here it is.

Through Her Eyes

Screaming hysterically,
Her skinny arms like a vice.
“Tuck your tail in, little duck,”
I protect Prim in every way.
People deal with me,
They are genuinely fond of Prim.

In some dark world of sadness,
With her dead eyes and stillness.
Prim forgave our mother.
A gnarled place in me hated her.
I yelled at her.
I told her I loved her.

The boy with the bread:
I am having nothing to do with him.
He is so steady. Solid as a rock.
“I’ve had a crush on her ever since I can remember.”
This is the first kiss…
That makes me want another.

Spring Cleaning

Despite the cliched blanket of snow on the ground, it feels like spring today. The sun was out and I felt like dusting cobwebs out of corners. I swept my room (more out of necessity than any metaphorical repesentation of a new beginning; the kittens have decided that the floor was in need of kitty litter more than the litter box was) and opened my windows. I’ve been working all morning on prep for this week – a test, some lecture notes, powerpoints etc. – but I am incredibly distracted by some old Ambitions sitting in the corner and staring at me pointedly.

Last night I started researching Grad School programs again and, for the first time, truly thought about going back to school sooner rather than later. This greatly upsets my Plan, as my Plan was to get a job and some security, take the time off and get my masters then (preferably the Masters of Arts for Teachers of English at SFU which would require a temporary relocation to Vancouver.) A collegue commented that if I really want my masters, sooner is better than later – more time for return on investment, and better pension contributions. But in reality it’s not the logic and security offered that made me stop ignoring those Ambitions, but rather how much I miss school. Sick, I know, but I actually miss writing essays. Teaching my own classes and not toc-ing right now has made me remember some things I wanted to do as an educator. While I love the idea of a Masters of Arts in English, I don’t think I have anything overly compelling to add to the discourse of literary analysis that I love so much. UBCO offers M. Ed programs that are part time, and I wouldn’t have to take time off work.

Either way, I have time to think and consider because, compuslive planner that I am, I am looking at the 2013-2014 session. Lots of time for research, and pro-con lists. Why do I always make things more difficult for myself?

Why It’s Good to be a Teacher-on-Call.

There are definitely some downsides to being a ToC: not knowing if I’m going to work each day (and thus not being able to make doctor/dentist/salon appointments. Yes the salon is just that important to me); not having a steady income, etc. But it has its good points and I figured I’d share them with you. If there is a “you” out there reading this thing.

1. No. Prep. Now, I actually think that making lessons and activities is fun, but to a point. It’s nice to be in a place in my teaching career where I can see how others teach and continue to develop how I’d like to teach. No prep also leads me to:

2. No Marking. Ok, I’ve marked various things as a ToC, from elementary spelling tests, to multiple choice tests, and even essay exam answers, but it never has to come home with me. That’s pretty nice right now.

3. Laundry isn’t super important. When I get ready for work I usually wear my work clothes only while I’m at school and immediately change into comfy clothes at home. Since I’m not exactly running half marathons in my work clothes they don’t get particularly dirty. As a ToC I can wear a shirt a couple of days in a row and no one knows cuz I’m at different schools. This cuts down on laundry and frantic wardrobe choices in the morning, (“I can’t wear that, I wore that last Tuesday, and they’ll know and then that’ll be my Tuesday shirt and…”)

4. Figuring out your niche. I’ve always known I wanted to be a high school teacher, but as a ToC I’ve taught K-12, and various subjects beyond my comfort zone of English and Socials. It’s a great way to find out which age groups you work best with and enjoy teaching the most, and even which schools have an environment that is compatible with you.

5. Bad days end at the door. I’ve had rough days as a practicum teacher, and rough days as a ToC. It’s kind of nice to be able to go home and know that you might not have to be in that class or see those particular students again the next day.

6. Building rapport with many, many students. I love that when I walk in a school and students see me they get excited and ask who I’m in for. Pretty much no matter which school I go to this happens; it’s nice that even though I don’t have as much time as a full-time teacher to build rapport with all the kids I teach, I’m in various classes often enough that I usually have one or two in each class with whom I have a good teaching relationship. That certainly makes classroom management easier too.

7. Holidays. We still get the same holidays and breaks, and can still take part in Pro-D activities if they’re available. It’s a pretty good gig.

I wouldn’t want to ToC forever, but right now it’s working out really well. I’m fortunate to be in the district I want to stay in, which makes my patience in getting a full-time job a lot easier to come by.