Monday, February 1, 2010

The Rules

Congrats to Ticia, first grade teacher, mom of three (including twins -- wow), and winner of our Teaching Authors book givewaway contest!  She will receive, per her request, a copy of the wonderful Sing-Along Song, by JoAnn Early Macken. And thanks to all of you, including Ticia, who so generously shared your own teaching and homeschooling experiences.

And speaking of contest winners...
The Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour takes place next February 1-5. The schedule is posted at Please stop by to read our own April Halprin Wayland's interview, posted February 1st at

As a kid, I read the All-of-a-Kind Family series at least 20 times and cannot tell you how thrilled I am to know TWO Sydney Taylor Award winners (hello, Esther!). I am now craving a midnight snack as I think of Charlotte regaling Gertie with stories while eating chocolate and crackers in bed. I only recently learned that the character of Sarah was, in fact, based on Sydney Taylor herself.  Knowing the stories were autobiographical, I was always sure Sydney would turn out to be Charlotte, the storyteller, Henny the "spirited" one, or Ella, the star.  Did anyone else ever guess Sarah?


So, I was just on the elliptical reading a fantastic mystery by Ayelet Waldman, the premise of which was basically that being an overwhelmed mommy is completely and totally normal. The relief I felt from reading this affirmation in a light work of fiction is, honestly, indescribable. My 20-minute workout also somehow spurred a plot idea to emerge, fully formed, in my tired brain. Takeaway message -- reading and exercise feed the soul and should be performed with utmost regularity. Of course I might have to engage a babysitter in order to do so, but that's another story.

"The rules" of society tell us, it would seem, that we cannot be good parents if we don't cherish every moment spent with our children. The truth is, I deeply cherish every pleasant moment spent with my children. But today, my husband and I had a rare afternoon date. When our wonderful baby-sitter texted: Where is the toilet plunger? and we returned home to a list headed "Patrick's Accidents," (five items in three hours) we were gladder than I can say for our temporary escape. Our babysitter might never return, but again, that is another story.

My composition students this semester -- and most semesters -- are all about "the rules." By the time they get to my class, most of them have been drilled mercilessly about topic sentences, thesis statements, and the five-paragraph essay format. When I tell them that they may indeed begin a sentence with "but" or use a sentence fragment as long as they do so in a purposeful manner, many honestly don't know what to do with this freedom. While I certainly believe that it is important to learn the rules before we break them, sometimes it seems that breaking them is the hardest thing to do.

I was a very conscientious child who burst into tears if mildly scolded. It wasn't until high school that I became conscious of my secret identity as a rebel. No, I didn't smoke, drink (though I sure do now -- thank you very much, Kate and Patrick), carouse, skip school or even a single homework assignment. But I was, (a trait I proudly recognize in my daughter now), a bit feisty. If I was assigned to write an essay on a "mythic hero," I tried to make it a little bit different. But I still wanted my "A."  Some teachers, I learned through the years, reward and applaud what they see as creativity. Some do not recognize or appreciate what they see as failure to follow the rules. The latter kind of teacher crushed my spirits but, I realize now as a teacher and parent, would have helped others to flourish.  The trick is striking an appropriate balance out of respect for our diverse learners.  But (yes, I chose this word on purpose) --  is this ideal remotely possible to achieve? Experienced teachers out there, you tell me. 

Writing Workout

In honor of the rule-breakers among us, I am linking to an article about William Safire's "rules" of writing.  Have your students do their own takeoff of this exercise based on the great Strunk & White. They can learn the rules at the same time they discover for themselves how (and when) to break them.

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford


Michelle Sussman said...

What a great post! My freshman year English teacher broke my heart in a million pieces. But my senior year, a new English teacher taught me to love writing again. Freshman year in college I had a Rhetoric teacher who fought with me tooth and nail on every paper I wrote, making me a better writer and analytical thinker. Big thanks to Bill Briggs and Steve Jahn - two men whose names I'll never forget.

Carmela Martino said...

Hooray for you, Jeanne Marie, for making time for both a 20-minute workout and a date with your husband. I'm impressed!
And thanks for sharing the link to the summary of writing rules and why we may want to break them. I plan to share the article with my students, too.

Jaymie said...

I love Ayelet Waldman's books! And if I am remembering correctly, she took some flack for talking honestly about the ups and downs of parenthood - she didn't "follow the rules." I think that makes her even more likeable!

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Michelle, my teachers who made a difference are Mr. Micklos, Mr. Bennett, and a wonderful summer-session teacher I had named Susan Land. I really need to look her up someday -- thanks for the nudge.

And Jaymie, I read the same about Ayelet Waldman. I also just learned she's married to Michael Chabon. I feel the same as you do, BTW.

Carmela, motivation for the workout is just as much of a problem as time. I actually have a little exercycle under my desk. Ask me if I'm pedaling as I type this. (Or rather, please don't!)

Anonymous said...

First off, I remain in awe of those coordinated individuals who are able to exercise on the elliptical while reading a book without incurring an injury!

Struck and White has been a favourite of mine since I was in high school. I love grammar and I love the rules. I cringe when "myself" is used in place of "me" and I feel ill when "that" is used instead of "who" or "whom." That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the article about William Safire's "rules" and found myself both laughing in agreement.

Sydney Taylor's books were essential reads during my formative years as a young Jewess and I always enjoy reading about other people's AOAKF experiences.