A simple declarative sentence

Don't mess around with a Block

by mrs. sabraw

On the first day of my grammar class this summer, twelve young people—ages 12-14—entered the room with the combined energy of twelve dead sloths.

I told them a story about the Nerdy 7th Grade Girl whose teacher, Mrs. Whooton, threw an eraser at her in 1962 because she didn’t “know a subject from a hole in the wall.”  I used every trick I know about humoring the humorless.

A couple of girls smiled.

Now you will understand that I do not give up easily. Undaunted by snotty looks and unafraid of teenage judgment (no matter how uninformed or immature it is), I proceeded forward toward my goal: to lead this little band of computer gamers and hormonal secret-keepers to the Land of Grammar, a place where one knows the difference between a phrase and a clause, among other things.

This summer, the first day of class  was painful.

My new students didn’t like my stories or my jokes or my clever ways to remember grammatical terms.

When students don’t play with me, I do what any self-respecting kid would do on the playground when rejected: I plot my revenge and recalibrate my strategy.

See you Thursday, I said, after the 1.5 hours of jungle heat and alpha-female chest thumping. Don’t forget to do your homework!

That night, I went home. Judge Blah was on a fishing trip, out of range. I had no one to talk to but the dog.

I decided to check my blog to see if anyone had commented. Paul had sent me some observations about Jung, Mary Jane had predicted failure in Labrador Retriever training, Jenny had expressed sympathy for my Lithuanian relatives, Andreas had wondered what Eva Brann really thought of his article on Socrates, and Richard had reminded me to take care of myself. All good.

I poured myself a glass of wine and checked my WordPress statistics. And then I saw it.

Someone had reached my blog by doing a Google Search with the following words:

i hate mrs. sabraw

Whew. I didn’t think I was that mean.


Yesterday, the same group of diffident teens entered my room.

Again, I told them a story, this time about the Nerdy 8th Grade girl and how she became popular helping the cool kids with their grammar,  even though she didn’t wear a bra or shave her legs at that point in her life.

The word bra did liven a few boys up for a moment, but the feeling faded and they slumped back in their chairs.

The lesson commenced.

Every sentence is like a human body. What makes up a human body? I asked.

No one volunteered an answer to this  question with obvious answers.

Oh, come on. Surely, someone here can venture a guess.

Jennifer felt my pain and answered,  Blood?

And so it went.

Finding the main verb and then its subject is the first thing to do when taking a sentence apart. The main verb and its subject are the skeleton of the sentence. The bones!

And so it went.

Before the class finished, I told them I had another story to tell, a sad one.

I shared my blog story. I made a sad face, shocked that someone in the world would type i hate mrs. sabraw in the Google Search box.

This group has the resiliency of a pile of rubber tires. No one blinked, so I  taught them all about verbals: gerunds, infinitives, and participles.

Last night, I came home with their messy papers, poured myself a glass of chardonnay, and checked my blog.

There, in the Google Search terms was the following sentence:

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Writing and Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to A simple declarative sentence

  1. Summer school? How very distressing and disheartening. I feel deeply for the teacher and the poor wretches who probably failed their grammar exams and have to make up for it or are simply pushed to the wall by worried parents who want them to succeed so badly that they drive them mad.
    Hate Mrs Sabraw? Not likely. What Mrs Sabraw represents? Most likely. But then I won’t learn that to an experienced teacher such as you…then again, it is the U.S. and California to boot; but I am surely biased.
    Did you wear your orange hat and shades?

  2. Cheri says:

    Hi Paul,
    Oh no, not the typical summer school. This is at my school, Mill Creek Academy, an enrichment opportunity.
    These students’ parents paid for my services!

  3. zeusiswatching says:

    I like you too.

    I never could understand grammar. I keep a handbook from college nearby, but it helps only a little. I have a friend who was an English Lit. major (or Major-General, I’m not sure), and I do call upon her for help.

  4. Well, at least someone was listening.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a good or easy way to teach grammar. My recommendation? Insult them copiously with complex vocabulary and grammatical constructions and then tell them that if they want to know if you are praising them or insulting them they have to pay attention and learn.

    BTW–do some of the other search criteria that led people to your blog make you wonder?

  5. Cheri says:

    I see that I wasn’t that funny here. That was the intent.

    • Actually I thought ‘the combined energy of twelve dead sloths’ was pretty funny. I’m surprised they didn’t want to know whether Mrs. Whooton got arrested for throwing the eraser.

  6. steve block says:

    Brilliant, they are lucky to have you. I still don’t know what a dangling participle is and I shutter to think there is a body part/metaphor for it.
    Keep plugging away, they will thank you when you are old and gray many years from now.

  7. jenny says:

    In the parlance of our times, Cheri: LOL. And I actually did. Thanks.

    And, of course, I am so very pleased by my cameo role. Again and again it pays to speak up in class.

  8. “An enrichment opportunity”, “Their parents paid for my services”, how does that impact on a teen-ager’s feeling of being robbed of his summer, vacation, or part of it?
    I’m sure Mill Creek is a fine school but it stll is school and it still is summer.
    I share your family member’s ignorance about “dangling participle” but then English is my second language.

  9. Cheri says:

    Sorry I put two nouns together.

    Yes it is, but 12 weeks is a long time to stay in front of the computer killing things (virtually, of course).

  10. I will not argue the last paragraph.
    Two nouns together? The meaning is quite clear, what is wrong with that? would “an enriching opprtunity”have been better?
    I’m still in the dark about the dangling participle though the body metaphor is most evident.

  11. First, I’m sorry to hear that Steve Block’s participle dangles. Fortunately, Cheri knows how to fix that.

    But on the plus side: Isn’t your story proof that you have at least one un-dead-sloth-like teen in the group who has exquisite wit and aplomb and sensitivity to leave a message like this?

    This is the modern form of a message in a bottle or a secret code. New Jersey spies could be communicating this way.

    And another thought: What if that collection of search terms — think Derrida or Foucault — became your summation, the essence of Cheri?

    I will now go look at my own search terms….

    • Checking your search terms has become a routine for me and the result is often worrying. Some of the most interesting cover a broad spectrum from “Last Supper Video Game” to “Male bulge obsession.”

    • Cheri says:

      Foucault the summation of Cheri?

      That’s a scary thought, indeed. Might be a good thread though. Who is part of our “essence”?

      And yes about the little twerp leaving me messages. I fear more to come…

  12. Douglas says:

    What is the difference between a phrase and a clause?

    I was deprived of competent grammar teachers. Actually, I wasn’t taught grammar at all except as a tangential subject when I got something horribly wrong.

    I had a friend whose mother sent him to summer school every year to take various classes that he hadn’t taken during the regular semesters. The last time I saw him he was awaiting his sentencing and expecting two to five years. I’m not sure there’s a connection there.

    • Cheri says:

      Welcome back, Douglas. Hope your recovery is going well.

      A phrase is a group of words. Think prepositional phrase like “over the hill” or “under the sink”.

      A clause is a group of words with a subject and a predicate. Think “The horse trotted over the hill.”

      Do were serious about that, right? Remember, I can be quite literal, at times.


      • Douglas says:

        I was serious about the clause vs phrase. I recalled something about one of them being able to stand on its own but not which was which.

        The recovery is going along. Which is well enough, I suppose.

  13. Mr. Crotchety says:

    I think you should change the name of your blog to, ‘I hate Mrs. Sabraw.’
    Imagine, If you were at public school, they might shut down the whole place until the perp is found, apprehended and counseled. That’s a hate crime. You might want to keep the turkey shooter handy, just in case.

  14. Melissa Lorenz says:

    Hilarious! I love checking in here now and again to hear about life @ MCA and get a dose of your comedy. Good to hear that things haven’t changed. 🙂 I miss you!

    • Cheri says:

      Miss you too, Melissa. Math has never been the same at MCA since you left.

      Hope all is well with you, your husband, and your little ones.

  15. Richard says:

    An insight into just how difficult your work is.
    But you can’t win ’em all, Cheri.

  16. Cheri says:

    You are right.

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