I had an English teacher in eighth grade who openly decided she hated having me in class.
She hated how I questioned the things she taught us, how I always had my hand up, and how beyond her dislike of me, she had to give me good grades for all of my writing assignments.
There was a unit in that class that tested over parts of speech and grammar. The unit lasted an entire semester and each week we received intimidatingly huge packets of paper with one word on the front branding it: VERBS. NOUNS. OBJECTIVE PRETERITE. ADVERBS. The list goes on.
The first thing that kicked off my streak of struggle with this teacher was the question I asked: "Why do we need words to name words if we already know what the words say and are?"
Judging from the twitch in her eye that day, it was probably not the best question to ask. Apparently, parts of speech were essential to the survival of the English language. She told me if I could not label every word in a sentence with a name, I was never going to be able to write well someday because there was a formula that had to be followed in order to succeed.
Even my 13-year-old brain could detect stubborn ignorance. But I decided to play the game, to learn these "parts of speech." I loved to learn, so why should this be so difficult?
Oh, but it was for me.
Some people struggle with geometry or with art because it is something that just does not click right in their brains. For me, learning parts of speech was like trying to nail a glob of jello to the wall.
I failed her first test. And the second. I passed nouns and pronouns and the more simple parts of speech, but when it came down to breaking every single word in a sentence down, my frustration blinded me to the point of outrage.
For as many times that teacher told me I would never be able to write without being able to break down a sentence, without being able to label each word as something, I never let it faze me.
Senior year of high school, I wanted to bring my ACT score sheet back to her and show her the 36 on the English and Grammar section as well as the 34 on the reading section. I wanted to tell her I was going to be an English major. That I had done so without studying and testing myself about those names for words.
I picked up on a few over the years, but not once do they go through my head while reading or writing. However, I realized that my energy was better spent on gratitude. Definitely not towards that teacher from eighth grade, but to the teachers throughout my life, for the lessons that never ceased, not even now that I am older. Nor will they ever cease.
My mother took every opportunity she had to perfect my speaking and writing skills. God forbid I say, "Mom can me and...," for I would stop short at the look she gave me. Saying "me and a friend" was blasphemy in my house. If I ever said it, she would say "Who? Who is going?" and I would get so angry, so frustrated that I kept forgetting.
It was when she started correcting me in front of friends that the lessons really began to set in. No one wants to be embarrassed in front of their friends, so the lessons were picked up and solidified, even more, when someone not in our family was present.
My mom was my prime editor with every paper and presentation I ever gave through school. Even so now, I send her my college essays and speeches and she shows me exactly where I need to improve upon or where the sentence structure just does not flow. She would show me, not tell because learning through your own mistakes is where progress happens.
Just like she would with my words, my mother never gave me the correct form of speaking. When I would tell her "Me and Sammi are going to the mall," she would give me a pointed look, inviting me to say literally every option until I realized I got it right. Granted, it did take a few tries, but once I hit a certain point where not every time I spoke was corrected, I rarely messed up ever again.
She did this for all of my sisters and me, and obnoxiously, my older sister and I began to correct our little sisters' speaking, which drove them insane.
Once my second youngest sister hit the point of correcting herself that my older sister and I had, we all started to dissect our youngest sisters speaking, much to her resentment. She has not hit that point yet herself, but she is well beyond the middle school speech class that all of her peers were in, even more so than the rest of my sisters and I at that age.
When people ask me to explain the rules of when to use "I" or "me" in a sentence, they automatically assume that I do not know what I am talking about, because I cannot break down the rules in the context of "verbs," or "predicate nominatives," but does it really make me wrong?
When I speak or write, it is through muscle memory, or honestly just force of habit. I can decide if one or the other is right through simply speaking it aloud, and it really bothers the people who write sentences like they are puzzles, where only specific pieces fit and others can never be positioned in places.
I don't see it as a puzzle to study and take apart only to try to put it back together again, but rather a path to walk. Sometimes the path isn't so smooth and easy to walk (or flow) over, so I try something else to make sure I was either right or wrong.
So no, I may not have understood the reason for labeling words, but I can flow with the structure that I learned through my mother's teaching and example without consulting the internet or rule handbooks to the English language every time I am unsure.