Should Teachers Listen to Their Instincts?

I originally thought of categorizing this entry under Student Stumpers, but after some reflection, I felt there was a deeper issue than merely a tricky grammar question.

The other day a student asked me about the use of nor. She questioned if this statement was correct: Susan isn’t here. Nor is Allen. Very often before thoughts are verbalized in my mind, there is a gut response I feel to such inquiries.  I immediately felt that something was wrong with this statement, but I wasn’t certain what prevented me from accepting it as being correct. All I could think was that’s not how I use nor. I also knew I’d choose different wording to voice the same idea: Susan isn’t here, and neither is Allen. / Neither Susan nor Allen is here.

I had to turn to a dictionary for insight. It confirmed that the student’s statement was basically correct, but since nor is a conjunction, the statement was only one sentence long and required a comma:  Susan isn’t here, nor is Allen. I’m glad I took a look at a reference book. It helped me offer a more accurate explanation to the student. In my mind, I could only see examples with the correlative conjunction neither…nor. I might have failed to acknowledge the accepted use of nor on its own. I did state that the original wording of the student’s example caught my ear, but admitted that I was unable to confirm why. Could it be a preference in American speech?  Merriam-Webster online notes that nor is “chiefly British”.[1] Or perhaps nor has grown to be more formal, while the use of neither is favored in everyday speech.

The whole incident reminded me of the responsibility teachers have to provide accurate information. When is it all right to rely on our instincts and when should we double-check before acting? Our instincts are good for deciding how to modify a lesson plan while executing it. Our instincts are good for knowing what rate of speech to use or whether to share a personal anecdote as part of a presentation. In short, teachers must develop and learn to trust their instincts when it comes to pedagogical skills. This is possible with teacher training, experience, and continued professional development. However, when it comes to the subject matter which we deliver by using our pedagogy, instincts aren’t sufficient to conclude our knowledge is correct. Resources can eliminate doubt and increase accuracy. From our dictionaries to our colleagues, resources exist to facilitate our teaching and therefore benefit our student’s learning.


[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nor

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