More Ferocious Than Any Crocodile: The Wrath of an English Teacher. Alternate Title: If You Are Small and Are Playing a Fun but Grammatically Incorrect Game, I Will Probably Make You Cry.

I made a little girl cry yesterday. I felt pretty bad about it and I didn’t mean to do it but I just couldn’t help it. You see, Kindy and Year 1 Kids were playing ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’ in the sandpit before school and I was the teacher on duty. The little ones were all hanging off the playground equipment singing,
“Crocodile, Crocodile, what’s your favourite colour? If not, why not? Your favourite colour is?” and the ‘Crocodile’ would shout “GREEN!!!!” and everyone wearing green had to run to a new part of the playground and get there without getting tipped – which incidentally was no one since the school uniform is red, blue, grey and white. However, inevitably some child would run anyway and someone would chase. I explain all this so you get some idea as to the seeming disregard for ‘correctness’ of play.

Anyway…I sat there watching this game, making sure they didn’t turn on each other as crocodiles do, or stand on top of the monkey bars and jump off expecting to fly away from the terrible crocodile, and the longer I sat the more unsettled I became.

You see, what these little ones were saying MADE NO SENSE! It was grammatically incorrect in a big way! Gah! I had images of these sweet little things growing up to be Year 10 students in my English class, writing atrocious sentences all because they became accustomed to bad grammar through ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’. Not only that but also enjoyed bad grammar because of pleasant childhood memories of ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’.

But they are just children and they’re enjoying their game, and it’s only a game and there is plenty of time for proper grammar, I thought as I sat there listening, every repetition slicing through my English teacher tolerance like a crocodile’s jaws through tender flesh. I wanted to scream in pain.

Then another image hit me. It was an image of me standing out the front of a class full of these delighted children, 8 or 9 years from now, looking at them, trying to correct their grammar as they all pointed their sweet little fingers back at me in blame saying,
“But Miss! You used to watch us play ‘Crocodile, Crocodile,’ and we always said it like this [insert a choir of Year 10 students singing their grammatically incorrect taunt] and YOU NEVER corrected us!”
It was more than I could bear. To turn a blind ear to such a desecration of language certainly left me culpable. They were right. Not only would they grow up to be illiterate but arrogant too. I had to do something.

I walked hesitantly to the edge of the sandpit and called all the little ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’ players towards me and as they looked at me with their perfect shining faces, I explained how what they were saying really made no sense. The shine dulled. Their now matt faces fell and the once happy ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’ players shuffled their feet and looked at the sand. Quickly I tried to replace the words I had taken with new, more correct syntax. I explained that when Iwas their age I LOOOOOVED to play ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’ but I played it a different way *ahem a way that made more sense ahem*. We recited the new words,

“Crocodile, Crocodile, may we cross your golden river? If not, why not? What’s your favourite colour?”

We repeated them. Then I released the students from my generous tuition to play a new, more fun, grammatically correct game of ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’.

To my surprise, my little scholars didn’t thank me. They dispersed looking somewhat bewildered and uncertain of how to regroup and begin the new improved – really tried and true, old school – version of their beloved game. They wandered aimlessly looking lost like intrepid explorers who had set off excitedly in search of new land but instead lost their way in a dark swamp and were now being devoured by all manner of marsh flies and mosquitoes. Then some brave soul tried to begin the game again but became self-conscious under my expectant gaze and abandoned the sentence like he had stumbled upon a river infested with crocodiles. I sighed. Meanwhile, one young child ran off crying inconsolably to her mother and I assure you, these were no crocodile tears! I cringed. I had killed ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’. I was a meanie.

New images flashed hauntingly into my mind. The sandpit became my classroom, a dark dank swamp infested with the miserable shadows of these children nine years on, faces haggard with despair and a deep hatred for grammar. What have I done? I thought. This must be how martyrs feel.

I wanted to be fed to the crocodiles.

I wanted to be fed to the crocodiles.Ā 

Then, a lone voice rang out, “Crocodile, Crocodile….What’s…May we cross your golden river?…”

I held my breath…

“If not, why not?…”

So far so good…

“Your favourite colour is?”

Ā 

Ā 

It was a compromise. With the right inflection it made sense. Phew. Slowly the little ones joined back in. Hesitantly at first, then as delightedly as they had been playing before my intervention. The bell rang and I returned to the Senior School to await the repercussions of the many parental complaints I expected to receive, completely convinced of the many reasons I would suck at being a Primary teacher.

Since then I have been pondering the following questions:
1. How far should one go in defense of grammar?
2. Is the scorn received when issuing benevolent correction part of the price one pays for standing up for that in which one believes?
3. Has anyone else ever made someone cry when correcting grammar? (Please tell me I am not alone!)
4. Whatever will I tell the parents when the call up? *gulp*

All responses welcome, especially if they are in my defence.

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9 Responses to “More Ferocious Than Any Crocodile: The Wrath of an English Teacher. Alternate Title: If You Are Small and Are Playing a Fun but Grammatically Incorrect Game, I Will Probably Make You Cry.”

  1. kim from hiraeth Says:

    Poor MissM. You have not warped any small children! Really! I promise. You may have demonstrated your unfamiliarity with their developmental stage, largely because you are used to working with much older students of which much more is required.

    As for your questions:

    1. It’s hard for me to think of teaching grammar as a ‘defense’ of grammar. I am much more of a black and white teacher. Grammar has rules. Math has rules. I teach the rules. Having said that, though, both are, by necessity, taught incrementally. When children are young, we teach by modeling and echoing and often correct without necessarily explaining the rules.

    2. Again, the idea of grammar being something that one believes in is throwing me. I can’t think of it as something to believed in, but rather as something to be conformed to, if that makes sense.

    3. Yes, sadly, I have made my boys cry over grammar (and spelling).

    4. I doubt they’ll call. And I doubt even one of those children will remember the correction with angst. You haven’t done permanent damage to anyone! If an upset parent does call, I would listen carefully to what they say and simply thank them for taking the time to talk to you about their concerns. Usually that’s all it takes with parents. They don’t want a fight, they want to be heard.

    Now, here comes my unsolicited opinion:

    Children’s playground games, Winnie the Pooh, poetry, (think e.e. cummings) nursery rhymes; all these frequently bend the rules of grammar. If we went in with our red grading pens and slashed through them, they would lose much of their charm and in some cases their expressive purpose. So, we leave them alone and teach the distinction between formal grammar and expressive works. And we wait to do that until the foundation has been sufficiently laid through exposure to proper grammar as well as literature genres.

    As for the specter of 4th or 5th graders pointing the finger of blame when “Crocodile, crocodile” is given as an example of poor grammar: by then they will have outgrown the game but its familiarity would make it a great example.

    I guess I haven’t exactly written in your defense, however you did say all responses are welcomed. : D

  2. Islandsparrow Says:

    I made a little boy cry once in school – he didn’t have his homework done and I was a little too stern about it. All the other students looked at me accusingly (he was a favourite). My daughter attended the same school and when she came home, she looked at me with tears and said” Mom, the kids said that you made Chance cry”

    I’ve felt badly about it since . . .

    But he survived and so did I.

    That incident wasn’t as bad as one during my first year teaching – I patted a little boy on the backside as he was getting into line in the library. I did it absentmindedly – I was thinking of my own little boys – and he was so cute – and it was a friendly pat – but he looked at me with shock and said loudly “You touched my buttocks!”

    I NEVER did that again!

    šŸ™‚

  3. missmellifluous Says:

    Geeez Kim, I thought you’d be on my side. šŸ˜‰ Nah that’s ok. I completely see your point. And your response was VERY welcome.

    Non-grammatical games can be fun, even nonsense games or poems like ‘Jabberwocky’, which I teach to my Year 9 Drama class and have them perform it, are fun – see I CAN do nonsense. But ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’ is not traditionally one of those games. It’s SUPPOSED to be grammatically correct. The version of it in our school sandpit appears nowhere else on the face of the earth, I’m sure.– Do you guys have ‘Crocodile, Crocodile’ over there? HOw would you play? — The children were just muddled. I had to help or they would be scorned wherever they attempted to play the game – am I convincing you yet? Hehe. *sigh*

    I guess I can get a bit jingoistic about grammar needing to defend it from the assault of the illiterate ‘n’ all. But if we, the English teachers, the guardians of grammar, don’t defend and preserve it it will be destroyed in sandpits everywhere! Then what will happen? The world will spiral out of control, I’m sure.

    I am glad to hear that both of you, Kim and Island Sparrow, have made young children cry through correction. Phew! You guys aren’t meanies so it gives me hope that all may be ok.

    Your stories made me laugh, Island Sparrow! Thanks! I will definitely refrain from patting students on the buttocks. How cute that he said “buttocks”! Haha! He sounds like a very proper young man and good on him for calling you on it, even though you had no bad intentions. šŸ™‚

  4. missmellifluous Says:

    Jabberwocky:
    http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html

  5. kim from hiraeth Says:

    I once told a preschooler to put his bottom in his chair and he smiled up at me and said, “Mrs. Shenberger, that’s not my bottom, that’s my biscuits!”

    No, we don’t have ‘Crocodile, Crocodile.” (I didn’t know it was supposed to be grammatically correct! And by all means, it was your solemn DUTY to make sure they played the game properly so that they were not subject to social outrage on another playground! : D )

    We have Red Rover, and Mother May I and Alice the Camel and Tony Chestnut and Simon Says. And I’m sure there are lots of others I can’t remember now.

  6. missmellifluous Says:

    Whatever did he mean, “that’s my biscuits”?!! And how did you respond? I would have been stumped.

    Thanks for finally seeing it my way, Kim. šŸ˜‰ Hehe. I am very dutiful and I do care about the social acceptance of the young. šŸ™‚ I have heard of some of those games you mentioned…fun!

  7. kim from hiraeth Says:

    Well, let’s just say his biscuits were his ‘bottom’ or as we call it in our house, his “bottom dollar”

    Your bottom (dollar) is the part you sit on. Ahem.

  8. ish Says:

    miss you

  9. okarne Says:

    I don’t see how this is a grammatical problem, it is a problem of sense isn’t it?

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