Friday, June 13, 2008

My mom was an English teacher

"My mom [or dad] was an English teacher, so . . ."

If you are a lawyer, especially a lawyer who is serious about legal writing, and especially a lawyer who teaches legal writing, this is a cool thing to be able to say. You don't even need to complete the thought. Listeners will assume that because your mother was an English teacher, she insisted that you speak correctly, that you use language precisely, and that you take writing seriously.

In reality, your English-teacher mother may have insisted on those things, and she may not have. And even if she insisted on them,you may not have learned them. So having an English-teacher mother really means . . . nothing?

But MY mother WAS and English teacher, and she did insist that I speak correctly. She inculcated into our family the attitude that words and language matter. As a result, we used to joke around the dinner table about word-usage mistakes other people made. (Kind of snotty, I know.) And she has three children with degrees in English, three with degrees in a foreign language, and one who makes a living teaching writing.

Here's the thing, though. My mom quit college when I was born, and she went back to college when I was 17. She finished her English degree after I left for college, and she finished her master's degree in English after I was permanently out of the house. She began teaching freshman English at a university only after that.

So although I still like to say that my mom was an English teacher, I feel a bit disingenuous about it.

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