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You’ll wish your family only had a swear jar.

The Language of Love: Life as the Child of an English Teacher

Growing Up Grammatically Correct

You’ll wish your family only had a swear jar.

By Katie Hovan, University of Miami


When people think back to their elementary, middle and even high schools days, the most lasting memories usually come from the people who impacted their lives.

The friends they surrounded themselves with may have helped to create lifelong bonds, but occasionally, time makes people forget childhood friendships or classmates. However, teachers, be they the unsung heroes or foes, helped shape every student’s life at some point.

In kindergarten, they gave students a comforting environment. In middle school, their guidance built an even more solid educational foundation. And in high school, they did their best to prepare us for life after graduation. They were always there watching us grow in school (partly because it was their job.)

The Language of Love: Life as the Child of an English TeacherAnd students spent so much time with them in the classroom, that it was often difficult to imagine teachers having a real life outside of school. And seeing a teacher out in public felt oddly like encountering an animal escaped from the zoo. Do I approach the wild teacher? What is it doing here? It looks so different out in the real world.

But has anyone ever wondered what it would be like if they spent their life with a teacher always present? That’s the reality for anyone who has a parent in the educational system. School doesn’t end for them once they shuffle onto the bus at 3:00, ride home and finish their homework assignments. The teaching continues at home, and not always in a typical parental approach.

For example, some children grow up with a “swear jar,” or they know a person who has. If they say a “bad” word like stupid or dumb, they might have to stick a quarter in the jar or do some extra chores around the house. (Obviously, the swear words get a little more passionate as people grow up.) It’s a common way for parents to implement good behavior and positive language early on.

Growing up with a mother who is an English teacher, though, my house ran a little differently than most others. We didn’t have a “swear jar,” but we had a more unconventional method for keeping our speaking habits in line. My older brother and I had what my mom chose to call the “like jar.” Every time I told a story, I’d have to stop the innate urge, which most teenagers have, to fill my sentences with the word like. “You know how there’s like a certain way to clean this?” I’d yell to my mom from the kitchen. “Like a certain way, or just a certain way?” my mom would respond, “Put a quarter in the like jar.”

This was a technique my mom used for her students in class, and unfortunately, I was raised with it, too. Much to my embarrassment, my mom even did this to my friends who came over after school or on the weekends. None of us could tell a story without being interrupted for using the word like. And we didn’t realize how difficult it actually was to stop using the word as a verbal filler until we had a teacher breathing down our necks every time we spoke.

And as one might have guessed, the corrections didn’t stop there. I could come home from school and share with my mom the most earth-shattering news a third-grader could have. “Mom, guess what! Me and Natalie are the new teacher’s helpers!” “Natalie and I,” she’d correct.

If, one day, scientists confirm that excessive eye rolls cause permanent damage, I will be living proof.

And a person doesn’t need to have a teacher in the family to know just how annoying this becomes after a while. Anyone with a grammar-loving relative or friend can relate to just how infuriating this can be.

But despite the constant grammatical scrutiny I was raised under, I can’t say that there haven’t been some advantages to my situation.

First and foremost, having a parent who teaches is like having real-life, personal spellchecker or homework helper. There was never a literature assignment I couldn’t face or a concept I couldn’t quite grasp, and Microsoft Word doesn’t necessarily recognize all of a student’s mistakes. Having a live-in teacher ready to proofread or explain ideas at any given moment is a blessing in itself, and because of this, writing for me has always been a positive experience. Though she’d never actually change the structure of any argument or story I had written because that was a skill I needed to learn on my own, it was a great feeling handing in an assignment as a measly first-grader and knowing the grammar was impeccable. This is also an advantage for anyone whose parent is a history, math or science teacher, too. It’s great to grow up with a helping hand for the more difficult assignments.

More than my own personal gains, though, I’ve gotten to sit in on a few of my mom’s classes and see the impact she has made on so many lives. She’ll let students eat lunch with her in her office if they need some time to talk. She’ll sit with students who are acting out and find ways to understand how they’re feeling and change their behaviors.

In general, teachers can be some of the most selfless people in a person’s life if they look past the grading and homework. One year, the valedictorian of the graduating class at my mom’s high school took to the podium to give her commencement speech. She spent her early years being homeschooled by her mother, who eventually passed away, and she spoke of the struggles she faced moving to a public high school and navigating through a drastically different lifestyle.

Then, she said, she met a woman on her first day of high school who changed her life and provided a sense of comfort for the next four years, no matter the time or day. That woman was my mother. Hearing her speech made me so immensely proud that a woman so genuine and so altruistic was also the woman who was also raising me.

Realistically, most teachers love what they do, and chose the job to make a difference is someone’s life, not to annoy people with their habits. I’m proud of my mom and everything she does for me and her students. It may aggravate her pupils and children beyond belief to be corrected all of the time, but at the end of the day, she only has our best interests in mind.

Yes, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to convince my friends that my motives are the same when I start to correct their grammar, too, but I really believe that the advantages of having a teacher as a parent outweigh the drawbacks any day of the week.

And though my friends might avoid my mom and me until they brush up on their sentence structures, I have my mom to thank for my love of writing and for instilling in me a genuine thirst for knowledge. She’s the perfect example of what a mother and a teacher should be, and I’m grateful that my education extended beyond a classroom and into my home.

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