Everything I learned about grammar I blame on Ms. Brooks


Blame it on Ms. Brooks. After Christmas break, we sixth graders at West End Elementary in Milledgeville came back to school to find a new English teacher. They never told us what happened to Ms. Russell, but Ms. Brooks greeted us in January.

She was like a drill sergeant. Short, direct, old fashioned, this country lady from Gordon (Gordon, Ga., not Fort Gordon) ruled with an iron fist and drilled English grammar into our heads. She was obsessed with correctness.

Ms. Brooks was famous for her “rat trap” folder required of every student. This was a notebook size cardboard folder with a big metal clip that was referred to as a rat trap. By the end of the year, it was stuffed full of notebook paper filled with diagramming, subject/verb agreement, punctuation, conjugations, and rules.

I was so relieved to survive and get out of Ms. Brooks’ class. When we returned for seventh grade, they had moved her up! So we got to spend seventh grade together. I had to buy another rat trap folder.

Her teaching stuck. I can’t remember every rule, but to this day I can’t stand to hear the language butchered by incorrect grammar. I immediately pick up spelling mistakes, like using lead for led as in, “The guide lead the way.” One leads in the present tense, but one previously led is past tense. Lead is a chemical element; led is the verb.

I can identify with the top spelling peeves making the rounds on Facebook posts, which include using you’re and your incorrectly, exchanging the verb affect for the noun effect, completely misusing there, their and they’re.

When I read the sports page and the write-up on last night’s Braves game, it drove me crazy to see Bobby Cox speaking in incomplete sentences. What was it with Cox and sentence fragments? Fredi Gonzalez is just as bad.

For example, the writer obviously asked, “What happened on that pitch that Nagy blasted?”

Cox responded, “Bad pitch. Bad location. Left it too high in the strike zone. Can’t expect to get them out like that.”

Or, “Great defensive play by Gilly. Just what we needed.”

Anytime I hear someone use the wrong case in a sentence, something from seventh grade kicks in and I want to pull them to a blackboard and immediately diagram their sentence to show them correct usage.

Someone says, “Him and me just hit it off.”

Ms. Brooks would say, “What is wrong with that sentence?” and we would say, “It doesn’t sound right.”

Ms. Brooks would say, “That response is not good enough. You need to tell me the rule. Why are ‘him’ and ‘me’ incorrect in this sentence?”

Finally, we learned to say that “him” and “me” are in the objective case and shouldn’t be used as subjects. The nominative case is “he” and “I.”

Or, someone says, “I am so thankful for what they did for my wife and I.” Since “I” is in the nominative case, “I” should be used as the subject, but not the object of the preposition. The correct word is “me,” which is in the objective case.

I can’t just read for pleasure. A split infinitive jumps off of the page. A comma splice or a dangling participle begs for correction. Ending a sentence with a preposition — that’s one of the worse grammar offenses I can think of …

What I learned from Ms. Brooks gave me so much confidence that, on one occasion, I actually corrected my college freshmen English teacher. I was a foolish young man, but Ms. Brooks would have been proud. The teacher was gracious, but, looking back, I should have let it go instead of raising my hand and showing off in front of the whole class. However, she was wrong on that point of grammar, I was right, and I learned it from Ms. Brooks.

Oh, well, we all have our issues. I blame one of mine on Ms. Brooks, but, somehow, 45-years-later, her teaching stuck. Let that be an encouragement to those investing their lives in teaching young people.


[David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville. The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road (just past the driver’s license office) and invites you to join them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org and “like” them on Facebook.]