Cascade Observations: Love, punctuated

May 29, and the handcrafted love notes from second graders keep coming — their teacher has informed them that today is my birthday, and that I will be retiring from teaching in the coming year. If I felt uncomfortable about turning 59 when I awoke this morning, their lovely cards have temporarily banished those feelings.


Peggy Dills Kelter prepares materials for completion of her last year as a teacher at Mid Valley.

Little do they know that their cards are demonstrating “hyperbole,” which my dictionary defines as “an exaggeration or extravagant statement.” Magali’s note to me is in Spanish. She writes, “Tu eres la mejor artista del mundo.” Translated it means, “You are the best artist in the world.” Nora says, “You are the best art techer ever! I will miss you over the summer because you are the best techer ever!” Who can feel depressed with fans such as these?

Cooper writes, “You are a grate artist.” His sentiment is less hyperbolic than those of the girls, but Cooper is reminding me that homonyms and homophones are one of the reasons English is so hard to learn for my ELLs (English Language Learners). Take the word grate as an example. Uttered orally, grate could refer to the action of shredding cheese, a metal plate that covers a hole (a whole one?) in the street, or an adjective describing someone who does something well, as in “you are a great artist.” One is a verb, one is a noun, and the last is an adjective.

The second graders’ charming cards, filled with errors of convention, make my birthday “The best day ever!!!!!” I send them back (an action of return or part of the human anatomy?) a class card to let them know (no?) how grateful (egad!) I am for (four?) their (there, they’re?) lovely gifts.

Lately, I’ve been noticing how often we use abbreviations — on road signs, when texting, or at the grocery store: 4 instead of “for,” as in “Johnson 4 Mayor,” “Cntr lane closed” instead of “center” and the one that always confused me in elementary school, “C’mon.” Until I was 9 or 10 I always read “C’mon” as “See moan” and wondered why so many authors used this undecipherable term in the novels I adored. The day I realized it was short for “Come on” was truly a day of revelation.

Although I am a native English speaker, I was tripped up by “C’mon” until someone read it correctly to me out loud. When instructing native English speakers, we teachers often ask them if something “sounds right.” Instinctively they know to say “The big brown dog” instead of “The dog big brown.” But English Language Learners can’t rely on their instincts to say or write something correctly in English In fact, the rules of Spanish would instruct them to add adjectives after the noun, and not before. So we all muddle through the messy but fascinating process of learning a second language.

I consider myself a “grammar geek.” In middle school I loved diagramming sentences. In college I worked as an editor and proofreader for my school’s publications office. I’m a member of the “Apostrophe Patrol,” one of the many in search of apostrophes being used poorly. That said, I still make lots of errors with English conventions. My friend Mimi is my go-to grammar guru — she even has the word “Grammarian” printed on her business card. I call her when I have questions about correct English usage. She is remarkably knowledgeable, especially since she is not a native English speaker; her first language is German.

My friend Kim is a fellow “grammar geek.” We find learning about the rules of language to be entertaining. Several years ago, we had a revelatory moment when we learned that there are rules in English about adjective placements. The order of adjectives should be as follows:

Quantity or number

Quality or opinion





Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)

Purpose or qualifier

For example, we wouldn’t say, “Oregon slimy five brown long slugs crawled through the soil wet.” Rather, the correct order of adjectives is, “Five slimy long brown Oregon slugs crawled through the wet soil.” Where others play golf or watch wrestling for entertainment, Kim and I search for grammar fun facts.

Kim is just one of the people I will miss when I hand in my keys to Mid Valley Elementary School next week. For 13 years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a group of brilliant, creative, hardworking educators. Together, we’ve experienced the untimely deaths of many of our loved ones, celebrated the arrival of new babies, weathered the ever-changing worlds of educational policies and procedures, rescued abused students, and always found some time to laugh.

There are seven of us retiring this year from MVE. Those that will remain are an astonishingly talented bunch. Last week they threw us a party that celebrated the importance of laughing together. Members of the school’s staff wrote witty, delightful songs perfectly created for each of us retirees. A full chorus of fellow teachers sang them, complete with a ukulele band and actresses pantomiming the lyrics. Thank you, Mid Valley, for a wonderful party, and for your support, guidance and humor these last 13 years. I will miss you, my grate friends. You are the best in the universe!

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