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.
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?”
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.