I mentioned earlier in the year that my group of third graders in all their chubby, misshapen glory are — for lack of a less emasculating word — cute. It presents some problems with management as even eight year-olds can be a handful at times, and downright sneaky at others. In case you need proof, a friend of mine who teaches second grade caught one of her kids trying to frame a classmate by “finding” a note with all sorts of nasty language that she herself had written. So, don’t doubt that third graders are capable of all sorts of chaos.

I realized not long ago that the cuteness of the students sometimes presents another challenge, one I’m working hard to overcome. I recognized the problem the other day when I was reminiscing about one of my fourth graders. I heard her voice in my head, asking me a question in her innocent, singsong voice and improper English. That kid was adorable, I thought to myself. Then a realization hit me. In five or 10 years time she won’t sound adorable, she’ll just sound uneducated.

I don’t encounter Ebonics as much this year (and correcting Ebonics does invite a bit of controversy I won’t address here), but many of my students speak with thick accents and sometimes broken English. And sometimes, I can’t help it, it sounds pretty damn cute. I think it makes them sound younger than they are, and if I spent more time speaking to third graders who are reading and writing at grade level I might have different feelings toward the way my kids talk.

In any case, I’ve realized now that helping my kids with their oral language is just as important as their reading, writing and math skills. In fact you can argue it’s more important, because it’s their verbal skills that will make the first impression everywhere they go.

It’s not as if I haven’t corrected students when they talk about something that is “mines” or use a double negative, but at times I do think I’ve let their size and age distract me from what is actually an urgent issue. Since the revelation I had about my student from last year, I’ve made a more concerted effort to see through the veil of cuteness and enforce certain rules of diction whenever possible. It may make for fewer “cute” moments now, but it’s my hope it will create more articulate and intelligent moments in the future.