On Friday I had another eureka moment.
Not an earth shattering one I’ll admit, but certainly enough to cause a minor tremor in Wigan, which is where I happened to be at the time.
We were working through yet another SPAG exercise with Year 6 – looking at semi-colons, colons and dashes. The sort of thing that always brings fun, smiles and laughter to any sentient being on a Friday morning.
One of the more rebellious souls of the class (don’t worry – he’s rebellious in a ‘likely to become a satirical cartoonist’ fashion, not in a ‘don’t leave him near anything flammable’ kind of way) put his hand up and offered a suitable sentence for the lesson.
“The cat sat on the mat – it had done a massive poo.”
Not Tolstoy I’ll grant you, but it fulfilled the criteria for the lesson and mildly distasteful as it was, he had used a dash effectively in a sentence. He got a giggle from his friends on his table, the SPAG hoop had been jumped through for today and all was right with the world.
That was when this week’s light bulb moment arrived (they always seem to come from silly little things the kids have done I’ve noticed). His choice of sentence intrigued me: it was simple and to the point; funny without being too crude; it demonstrated ability with minimum effort. In short it was genius. It was also a sentence he’d probably been using regularly since year one.
I began mulling over in my head how that sentence has probably been applied time and time again to tick the relevant boxes along the way. The cat would have sat on a blue mat when he learned simple noun phrases. Or “sat on a mat!” when he was first introduced to the world of exclamation marks. He could probably write a whole story containing ever more complex sentence structures about the adventures of this moggy by now, whether it had defecated on the rug or not.
And so on Saturday, still bleary eyed from the obligatory large glass of wine taken on board Friday night, I set to work on a piece of whimsy. I took the story to its nth degree – spun it out, gave it a punchline, formatted it and sent it on its way out into the world.
It was intended as a piece of light hearted fluff – something for my teacher colleagues and friends to take a giggle at on social media and then pass on if they want. The whole process took about twenty minutes and I’d posted it on Facebook by about 7am.
It’s always nice when your friends share the joke and I’m pleased to say they did. By the time I’d got back from taking my eldest to his football match (they lost 6-1 but he played an absolute blinder in goal. I knew you’d be dying to know how it went) the post had been shared on my timeline about ten times. Lots of likes, giggles, smiley emoticons and general positivity to give your Saturday a bit of a lift.
That’s when the fun started. We hit the wonders of going viral. A couple of teaching sites sharing the post later and we find ourselves in notification overload territory. 2300 shares, a similar number of likes and about 750 comments later and I’m now utterly exhausted.
Because of some apostrophes.
Remember the whole ‘It was 7am’ thing? Well, if you look very carefully, my phone, with infinite wisdom it appears, had obviously decided that ‘its’ was not good enough as a possessive pronoun and I OBVIOUSLY meant to put in a contracted form of ‘it is’. Well, who wouldn’t? Apple knows best now children – do what the predictive text tell you…
Quickly, somebody obviously got on the phone to Nick Gibb – and it’s not surprising. We had a major punctuation abnormality emanating from the North West and it required urgent action. He even claims to be a teacher Nick – A TEACHER! Don’t you worry – we’ll sort it out…
Won’t somebody please think of the children!….
A brief selection of the very best reaction comments for you…
“I want to poke my eyes out with a green pen…”
“What is primary education coming to?….”
“As a professional I expect more…”
Wowsers. I honestly did have to check that the sky outside wasn’t falling. I don’t mind saying, it made me feel more than a bit rubbish.
Even though the logical part of my head was saying “Blimey, look at all those great reactions – the number of people saying that they are getting a bit of joy from your joke – that’s brilliant” there is a significant part of me that can’t shake the fact that a significant number of people reacting (maybe 1 in 10) seemed more interested in telling me what was wrong with a small part of it than what they enjoyed overall. The fun was gone, the pride in the work severely dented.
Now I’m big and ugly and thirty-nine, so I’m pretty sure I can deal with it in the long term. I can cope with the fact that people may have missed the point of what was never intended as a piece of formalised writing and was only ever a piece to lift the spirits a little.
If i’m brutally honest from a professional point of view I’m still a little pleased that the negative comments were there, after all any exposure for my work is good. The more discussion about it, in whatever form that takes, the better. Barnum was right – there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
I can’t help but think though that I’ve had a tiny glimpse into what it’s like for the kids we teach. To be told time and time again (even if those negatives do occur vastly out of proportion to the positives) that what you have done is ‘wrong’ or that the only thing worth commenting on is the mistake you made is totally demoralising.
How often do children go home remembering the one thing they couldn’t do and not the other fifty things they could?
It’s no wonder that every May that we end up with a catalogue of news reports about pupil morale dropping through the floor because of stress caused by the ever increasing tests. That fear of doing the ‘wrong’ thing – or of daring to make a mistake in public, is quite palpable and in the mind of 7 and 11 year olds, probably terrifying.
I had it all condensed into a day – after all my whimsical little joke is tomorrow’s digital chip paper, but what if that negativity was spread out over seven, long, formative years? Would I still be feeling quite so chipper about it all then?
Anyhoo – I’m not going to change it now. I kind of like the stray apostrophes. I secretly enjoy how it winds up the Grammar police and that they hate that we can all still understand the sentences they are in even though they have sirens going off at 100 decibels in their head about those teeny tiny little punctuation marks. I always get a positive thrill when someone looks at my work in a disapproving fashion and completely misses the point of the joke and this has happened on an epic scale today.
I think next time I’ll throw in a few stray semi-colons and see where that gets me 😉