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How Good Is 'Good Enough'?

Kimberly Johnson, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Kimberly and and her mentor, Laurie Stenehjem, share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.



I've been having an ongoing discussion with Craig, another seventh grade English teacher at Valley, about what and how to teach our students. Most recently, our discussion has focused on the topic of grammar rules.

I just finished going over the eight parts of speech with my students, but I don't feel as though I made much progress. If I point out a word to my students and ask them to identify it, I get more blank stares than I do attempts to answer. Craig asked me recently what I thought of the way I had taught the eight parts of speech. I replied that, while I don't regret trying to teach them the fundamentals of the English language, I wish I could have done it in a way that made my students want to learn them. We discussed how that might be done, but we didn't come up with an answer.

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Many of my students are already talking about the job they'll apply for when they turn 16 and the car they'll buy when they can afford one. Yet so many of these kids come from families in which the parents work at least two jobs to afford a car and a place to live. Craig and I agree that many of our students don't realize that the skills they learn in middle school can help them get into college and earn more money than their parents do. Of course, not all my students need or want to go to college -- and I can't treat all my students as though they're college-bound.

I do believe it's important for everyone to understand the basic rules of the English language, so they can write clearly and speak fluently. Whether a student aspires to a post-high school degree or not, almost every occupation in our country requires good communication skills -- reading, speaking, and writing. I struggle with how to teach those skills to my students; they don't seem to believe me when I tell them how important a good command of the English language is. In the words of so many of my students, "I speak English good enough!"

Good enough for whom? Good enough for what? Even as I struggle to answer those questions, I think that perhaps those students have a point. Maybe their command of the language is good enough for working a minimum wage job. Not every American needs to speak and write impeccable English, right? Maybe I do get too uptight when I get blank stares and wrong answers. More and more my discussions with Craig are helping me realize the importance of starting where my students are.

Next year, I will teach the eight parts of speech again, but I'll do it in a way that keeps the lives of my students in mind. Now all I have to do is figure out how! Teaching is certainly more about asking questions than about conjuring up easy answers.


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Article by Kimberly Johnson
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2/14/2002