Back to School

If you’ve read my “About” page, you know that I spent twenty-eight years in an elementary school classroom.  Recently I’ve been having dreams about teaching – dreams that are not necessarily pleasant.  The children are either unruly, or there are a hundred of them packed into a room designed for twenty-five.  Or I forgot to get dressed that morning and spend the day looking for something – anything – to cover myself.  It happens every late summer as soon as the “Back-to-School” banners start appearing in stores.

Scary dreams aside, I loved teaching, otherwise I’d never have spent twenty-eight years doing it. But when it came time to retire, I delightedly passed my plan book and 437 apple figurines on to the next teacher to occupy my classroom. The photo above was taken for the yearbook as my “retirement portrait.” I don’t think they used that one, though.

Even though I’ve been retired for nine years, people still ask if I miss teaching. My answer is generally, “No,” but there are times when I realize there is nothing like a good captive audience to make your thoughts and opinions seem important. I miss that, but then I do occasionally turn to this blog to do a bit of teaching, and preaching. And so today we are going to have a little writing lesson.

One of the biggest rules for writing is to write for your audience.  In the case of my fifth graders, I was most often their audience. I stressed to them that they had to write in a manner that allowed them to correctly communicate their thoughts to me, and in order to do so trendy slang was not permitted.  I felt like I was doing them a big favor in not allowing “words” like gnarly (1980s) or phat (1990s) to be used in their writing.  And it’s not just that those words sound dated today, it also helped some of them develop a habit that would help them if they had to do more formal writing in high school and college.

Today I’d be banning terms like cray-cray and amazeballs and dope and totes and fail (used as a noun).  I see these “words” on social media all the time, and I realize there is a need to look cool (one of the few trendy slang words that has endured, being popular in the 1940s)  but slang changes so quickly that one runs the danger of sounding dated.  Who could have been cooler in 1969 than Arlo Guthrie”

“Far out , man… Like I was rapping to the fuzz. Right, can you dig it?”

Believe me, by 1971 that just sounded weird.

Write for your audience. Remember that if you are writing on the internet, you have a multi-generational audience.  You also have an international one. Many struggle to read standard English, much less English that is sprinkled with slang that changes as soon as a celebrity uses a word in a cutsie way and everyone rushes to copy.

If you find that you are guilty of using these slang terms, don’t be offended.  As the teacher I’m here to help, not to criticize!  And, yes I do know that my own writing is not exactly textbook writing.  I’m writing to my audience, my vintage and fashion history friends, so I use a conversational voice.

I wanted to end this with a photo of me in the classroom, but the best I could do was this shot that was taken while watching the class on water safety day.  This was taken in 2000, so I want to stress that I was the person who started the whole nautical stripe trend.  And yes, I do still have and wear that striped tee.


Filed under Viewpoint

19 responses to “Back to School

  1. Christina

    Your “conversational voice” is one of the main reasons I visit your blog. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – your blog is one of the best out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing those charming pictures and good advice. If there are any retired teachers who do not have Back-to-School dreams every August or September — well, I haven’t met them yet….
    I do love September: Indian Summer, deep blue skies, falling leaves, the faint aroma of woodsmoke in the air — and the annual “I’m going to be late for the first day of school because I have never seen this campus before and I can’t find my classroom” dream.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Too funny! The last five years of my career were spent in a newly built school, and sometimes in my dreams I’m in the old school and then end up in the new one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Those “stressed out” (my use of slang) back to school dreams haunted me too–especially the first year that I did not return to the classroom after retiring. I was amazed once to hear my mother-in-law, who went to UCLA during the Depression, say that she was still having student ‘back to school’ dreams, even into her 80’s, so it must be universal! I say, if I were queen of education, we’d just have tea and cookies for the first week and get to know each other first, then launch into those pesky problem areas later on in the month when they wouldn’t be quite as difficult.


  3. love it / remember it-68-7-3!? WE must be of same generation… and the striped tees never looked better-love them/and your shorts and hat-and sneeks and socks-love it-still looks great to me!


  4. Christina, ditto your remarks! Hats off to teachers, my sister is one.
    She’s mercifully close to retirement (mercifully I say because of the politics and bad admin), but she will miss the little darlings!
    And yes, linguists know language is always in flux and that is part of it’s charm and beauty, but good writing is quite a different kettle of fish (cliche intended!). PS Love the brutalist concrete bench in the last shot, my husband is a concrete artist, must get him to make one for the garden.


  5. That was you? I could have sworn it was Brigitte Bardot. You’re right, the Breton shirt thing is all your fault.


  6. I love that you continue to use your blog as a method of teaching, and I have learned so much from you! And I am thankful to have you and your blog as such a wonderful resource!

    Regarding slang, I will openly admit to using some slang words, but while not to sound cool, but simply because I like them. I loathed when “phat” was vogue. It sounded so silly to me! I use slang from across the decades, “dig” being a very common one for me. “Cray-cray” and “totes” have been known to come out of my mouth on occasion, but while I do know that “dig” has been used on my blog, I don’t believe “cray-cray” or “totes” has.


  7. Thank you for using your blog as your teaching outlet! You are a great teacher who has taught me much!

    I feel so justified in my writing style now – I’ve never been very good with slang, especially in print! (I don’t even like abbreviations, which has made tweeting interesting to say the least.) Aside from the occasional bad pun and emoticon, I think I struggle with being a bit too formal in my writing. I aspire to be more conversational like you.

    And yes, you are totally a trend setter! 😉 I think stripes and polka dots will forever be in style – you can’t beat a timeless classic!


  8. Here, here! (Or is that hear, hear!) I think clear writing might be the best path to world peace, or at least the peace and edification of your readers. I notice that you didn’t include good grammar in your post, but you show by doing on that score, too.



    So nice to see you! I have missed your blog! Poor grammar, spoken or written, as well as social abbreviation really bother me.!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.