Why, oh why, are there people in our public school system teaching children how to write that have no idea about basic fictional writing principles?
My son came home the other day with a low grade on a story he had written. No biggie, I’m not an ogre—until I read her comments, that is. My husband sat at the head of the table watching me with hands folded. I think he was waiting for me to blow a fuse… which, admittedly, I did.
My husband said, “I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I wanted to see what you thought.”
This is the comment. Hold your breath…
“Don’t use so much dialog in your writing. Dialog kills a story.”
Okay, so I took a deep breath, and read his story.
He had done a horrible thing. He had allowed the dialog to tell his story… without a STITCH of show versus tell issues. It was actually GREAT. (No explosions, but that’s okay. He’s the quiet one)
His story was realistic, believable, and perfectly constructed. Now, I understand that writing is subjective, but to grade him down for writing correctly? UGHHHH!
My husband raised an eyebrow and said, “I would LOVE for you to go in and talk to her about this.”
Yeah, he would think it was funny if I got taken out of the school in handcuffs. This teacher is not to fond of my son to begin with (he’s a giggler and she is a drill sergeant) We’re just biding our time until we can get him out of this class. My husband had growled his way through a few parent teacher conferences with her already.
So, what did I do? I explained to my son that he had written it correctly, and sometimes you are going to be judged unfairly. I told him that I want him to know what is right, but next time give her exactly what she wants to get the grade, but know there is a better way to do it.
(It’s sad to give real-life advice to an eight year old) I just know that there is no winning with this woman, and she, unfortunately, is in a position to make my little guy miserable for the rest of the school year. Believe me, if it were the last day of school, she’d totally have gotten a writing lesson from me… I just need to think of what I’m doing to my child as well.
A week later he came home and said, “Mom! I wrote a really bad story and she loved it!”
I looked at his new story. It was 100% tell, no feeling, no dimension, flat characterization. And she wrote “Nicely done.”
I cringed. “Okay, but you understand that this is NOT the correct way to write, right?”
He laughed. “Yes Mom. I tricked her.”
What’s really sad, is the chances are the 23 other kids in the class don’t have a parent who’s an author. They will all leave this class thinking they are great writers.
And people wonder why there are so many bad manuscripts out there in the pipeline?
“I don’t know why these agents are rejecting me. Mrs. So-And-So from third grade said I was a genius.”
Have you ever been in a situation like this?
Love this post, and yes, it’s so true. We often have to unlearn all the poor writing and grammar rules from school *Shudders.
Yeah, it stinks
I remember being about eight and getting a bad english grade for a story, and the teacher decided I hadn’t indented my paragraphs and dialogue sufficiently and circled every single one on the page in red. I had indented in but say by about half a cm and she wanted a cm. There was no comment on the content at all. Some english teachers are not very encouraging.
Ha! You just made me remember that once I “outdented” rather than indented. The teacher made a big deal out of it in front of everyone. Then she raced to the office to make a copy so she could keep it. She was not nice about it at all. I’m surprized that I was able to write at all after that.
awwwww… so close but yet… I had an awful english teacher in high school. He used to turn up about three quarters of the way through the class and couldn’t control the class at all. In the end I complained to him and got myself moved into another class. The new teacher was amazing!
Well, that’s good. I wish I knew earlier in the year so I could have moved him. I heard rumors, but I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt.
I think with you encouraging him he will be fine. I only really got myself moved because it was an exam year so it was half way through the year and we hadn’t looked at any of the course required texts… but I don’t imagine that will be as important when he is 8! Or at least I hope not!!!!
“Mom! I wrote a really bad story and she loved it!”. Hahahahaha
Good for you. My sister would have gone over to the school and ripped the teacher a new pen hole. Likely me too. Smart kid!
So sorry your son’s teacher doesn’t like kids who giggle, sounds like she should be teaching high school? Though as a teacher of 8-yr-olds myself, I can tell you that I can’t grade work as a creative work of fiction. I must grade them according to the writing curriculum aligned to our state learning standards and nooooooooooo, they aren’t conducive to producing fiction authors. I’ve pointed this out a few times to the powers that be but to no avail. It seems that’s not our aim at this point, but rather just a basic understanding of grammar and the beginning, middle and end of a story since they don’t count on the majority of the population being the next J.K. Rowling anyways. Students must follow the prompt precisely and yes, they do get marked down for too much dialog–at least on our 4th grade standardized writing assessment and therefore, all writing that leads to that point in preparation for the test (but of course we aren’t told to ‘teach to the test’ HA!). I know, it’s sick. I didn’t say I like everything about my job . . . but perhaps in this case it’s not the teacher’s fault? I dunno, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt–it’s a disease I’ve had a long time;) How much longer in the school year? Only 4 more days for us! I’ll close by saying that for eveyone on here who has dealt with a bad teacher, I hope you tell the gOOd ones you appreciate them:) It’s a thankless job without much monetary benefit and although that’s not why we go into teaching, it’s easy to get burned-out & I think that’s what makes a lot of these cranky, ‘bad’ teachers . . . Ok, I’ll get off my soap box now too! I’d love for you to post your son’s story so I can see how it aligns to the standards I teach! Keeping my fingers crossed for a fantastic teacher next yEAr . . .
I was actually so hopping mad that I was going to post it to ask everyone if I was crazy or not. He had to bring it back the next day, though. When it comes home again, I might just do that.
It is entirely possible that they are teaching them this way because of the standardized testing. They make a very big deal out of it. If they do, thought, they should call it “summary preparation” or something like that, and not ask them to write a story.
I can’t tell you how many praises and accolades we’ve given to the great teachers. There were even teachers I specifically asked for as my kids moved up the ranks, one behind the other.
My 17 year old is going through an issue right now with the requirement to take geometry to pass high school. I think it’s dumb. He’ll never use it. What happened to teaching kids to balance checkbooks and how to do accounting and learning how to save money? You know, the things they’ll use every day of their lives.
I feel for teachers. I really do, but I feel for the parents who see the public school system falter and there’s nothing they can do. Ugh. To all the great teachers out there…I salute you. You’ve got a tough job.
I actually liked geometry (hides) Now that Trig stuff. ERGGHHhhhhhh!
I love that he said he tricked her.. I giggled myself when I read that. It is sad when teachers are basically… not teaching. The school year will be over soon and hopefully he won’t have this teacher again!
I have had to tell my daughter to bite the bullet and just do what the teacher asks to get a good grade. It sucks, but it’s life..
Thanks for sharing this story!
I’m happy, but also sad to find out that I’m not alone in this.
Your son is one clever little dude.
We’ve all had bad teachers. There’re lots of them out there, people who have no business teaching children, or anyone for that matter.
It’s a shame, really.
With my mother, who was a fourth grade teacher. I tell the story here: http://thesoundofonehandtyping.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/i-love-you-mom-now-shut-up-and-let-me-write/
I wasn’t writing fiction in this case, but same principle.
Yes, same principle completely. Thanks for the link!
It IS sad that your son has to write a sh*tty story (that even he, an 8 year old, knows is sh*tty) to get a decent grade. You are fantastic to hold in your anger to protect your son. That takes a lot of self control. 🙂
Yeah, I was pretty peeved. At least he laughed about it.
She has more patience than I do. I tip my hat to Jenn for her composure.
What a clever boy you have! It’s pretty awesome that he can write a good story at eight years old AND be mature enough to give the teacher what she wants, even though he knows it’s not his best.
We’ve dealt with our fair share of teachers like this too… At least the year’s almost over! 🙂
That’s what I’m telling him… just a few more weeks. I knew this wasn’t the greatest teacher going in to this year. If he gets a bad one again next year, I’m getting him switched before the school year starts.
As a parent and a teacher, I’ve set on both sides of this discussion. I can see your point. I can the teacher’s point. Creative writing is not fiction writing just as literary writing is not genre writing. I think the teacher is working on creative writing and you are focusing on fiction writing. AND, you’re both, correct.
Whole blog reminds of a Harry Chapin song title Roses Are Red. One of my favorites about an art teacher who told a little boy there was only one way to see flowers. Family moves and new teachers tells him there are so many ways to see flowers. If you’re interested, you can see the full lyrics here: http://bit.ly/dQqmLg
Enjoyed your blog and, fyi, I took the same route when my kids were in school. Do what the teacher asks until it’s morally or against your principle.
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for chiming in. I appreciate the teacher’s perspective. I honestly don’t know WHAT kind of writing it was supposed to be, but what he did was actually a pretty good conversational fiction piece.
The second one was a bland summary of a story. It looked like my six year old wrote it.
I’ve gone to bat with my kids’ English teachers for similar situations. On one occasion, I even took a grammar book in with me to a parent-teacher conference to prove her wrong about what was or wasn’t an adverb clause, AND I brought in several novels written in first person to show her my daughter DID write her story correctly and the teacher was wrong. Man, I was fuming on that one.
I’ve told my kids before to do what they need to do to get the grade, but never, ever sacrifice themselves and their principles to do it. I’ve told the teachers the same thing, too. There is a fine line to walk with principles, and I’ve tried to teach my kids that sticking to their principles and what’s right and wrong is far better than getting a good grade or pleasing a boss. I feel sacrificing that innate belief at such a young age encourages kids to continue the trend until they are sacrificing their morals and principles at an older age. I may be wrong, but it’s another pet peeve of mine. People should never back down when they know they’re right. I’m a vicious mommy when someone ‘attacks’ my cubs when it’s unwarranted, even now when my kids are older. I wonder…did you tell this teacher you are a published author and that her understanding of fiction writing is incorrect? I would have, but that’s me. Unfortunately, making our children do what they need to do to get the grade is only fueling the problem in the public education system, yet if we balk, we’re trouble-makers. I guess I’m a trouble-maker because I did’t let any teachers get away with anything I felt was unjust or stupid teaching.
I hate our public school system. Tell your wee one to stand his ground. This teacher is telling him to ‘dumb it down’. Not acceptable. Not at all.
I’ll get off my soap box now. This sort of stuff just burns me.
Ha! I was going to have a chat with her on the last day of school. Problem is, she already has her eye on my little guy becaue he giggles. I don’t want her taking anything out on him. Ya know?
Ugh. I had a similar experience when I was in school. We got a new English teacher who helped judge the school-wide story-writing competition. I remember the prompt was “It was a dark and stormy night…” (I know, very unimaginative). I wrote a horror story in the first person about a cowboy in a ghost town, and got marked down–because, said his comments, it’s “Unrealistic. You are not a cowboy. None of this really happened.”
Uh, duh! It’s a work of FICTION!? I still won 2nd prize in the contest, but for someone who’s come in 1st every year, it really got to me.
My response? I wrote a petition I got the class to sign with evidence of his incompetence, Didn’t manage to get rid of him (he’s friends with the principal), but I was ‘unofficially’ allowed to skip every one of his class till the end of the year, probably because he knew if he complained I’d try and cause more trouble.
Yup, don’t mess with writer me! 🙂
You should send him a copy of your novel and sign it “Duh… it’s fiction…IDIOT”
LOL, great idea! Yeah, he must think it rather unrealistic, especially since I’m writing in the first person as a MAN. 😛
Ha! Maybe he’ll think you did a switch-erooo
Not quite though I did have a teacher who gave me a bad grade on every report I ever did, each time giving me a new reason, and when I did what she asked, gave a new one why she couldn’t give me a good grade.
Yeah, that’s what I’m worried about with this teacher, too since she’s not fond of him already. subjectives grades can be bad.