My Students' Heinous Spelling Is Killing Me


katBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

Note: The following word “lisense” is in no way the fault of my indispensible and acurate-spelling editor.

I have another sore throat, and the damp-rainy season here in Southern California has only just started. I’m actually quite healthy, overall, but because I’m in the classroom (closed, cramped, crowded) my immune system just can’t protect me. Think of one of Lady GaGa’s bodyguards trying to get her across the street in Times Square—maybe in that dress made of meat—and you’ll get the picture.
Like sore throats, nose sniffles, and stomach flues, bad spelling is also contagious. I’m looking at a stack of essays right now that have done serious damage to the dissertation I’m writing. It’s not just the misspellings, either. Some students can’t seem to understand that one word (like definitely) definitely, absolutely, cannot be replaced with another (defiantly). They definitely don’t get it even after I circle the incorrectly spelled word, comment on it in class, and write a blog about it.
Listen, I’m compassionate when my students attempt to work in what I call SAT words to help elevate the writing: perseverance, maneuver, liaison, mischievous, nadir, supersede, etc. are examples of words commonly misspelled, but used by students with the best of intentions. Perhaps you’re wondering if my students have their spell-check programs turned off so that these types of words end of being butchered past recognition? Me, too. I asked a class of chronic poor spellers what was happening and learned that many students, or so they told me, just ignore those red squiggle lines under words. 
Not just squiggle lines. Red. Squiggle. Lines. Who ignores red squiggle lines? The same people who ignore stop signs, and traffic lights, perhaps?
At times I wonder how revelent spelling is, when many of my students labar to put a propper sentence together. I’ve been called a tryant by many a frustrated student. Is it abserd to insist on corectly spelled words when all is said and done? I say yes, because students aren’t writing in a vacume. While I am tenderly simpathetic, I have a threshhold for how much I can take.
One writing colleague told me that he views spelling in writing much like multiplication tables in math. It’s nearly impossible to make it through College Algebra, following his example, if one doesn’t have the basics down and buried deep in the brain. Despite my sometimes-hippy-like nature, I do believe that rules are important. Rules in writing are there as a way for the writing to stand out, to be about the content itself, versus the formatting or poor spelling or weak arguments standing out. One of my long-held rules, for example, is that I don’t allow contractions in essays. To dodge this rule, students will leave off the apostrophe — they write its instead of it’s, or worse — cant instead of can’t. Of course I see through this dodge. Of course. But they still try…
As I mentioned, my own spelling and word usuage suffer after countless hours of reading these essays from my spellistically-challenged students. The spellings are one thing: separate is separate is separate. The word will never be seperate or saperate or even seprate. Alas, sometimes the colloquial phrases seep into my unconscious and emerge in my own writing. My dissertation Chair has commented numberly times that I use words in unusual and interesting ways: translation, wrongly. And I know when it happens by her little red marking of “voice” over phrases where the heinous vernacular has taken over. Now, I would never substitute a “u” for you, of course. Less obvious, though, is switching there/they’re/their, or principle for principal, or nauseous for nauseated.
Even misspelled is regularly mispelled, leaving me to wander if I am, like that poor body guard whom I imagine escorting the much-bedekked pop singer mentioned at the start of this blog, fighting a loosing battle. My students and spelling. It’s a Bad Romance. However, what can I expect from kids whose pop stars can’t spell. Uncle Kracker, indeed.
About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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  1. Kathy – OH, you so aren’t alone. In an upcoming blog I talk about finals week and how you can find all the adjunct on FB and Twitter doing helpful, funny, and soulful status updates while trying to grades these gems. Thanks for the feedback! Hang in there, we need you!

  2. I’ve been pondering this myself. Did they learn nothing in high school? Are they unable to use spell check? Or do they just not care. Probably that’s it, which is the most frustrating of all. What’s worse is I teach journalism. Ugh. At least I’m not the only person with this driving me nuts 🙂

  3. Jim and Sara, your acuity with the crazy spellings scares me! lol (lauffin out lowd)…Tnx 4 ur feedbk!
    Chris, Sadly, many of these students either don’t care (and are in college under duress, or because they don’t know what else to do), or they just don’t know any better. In either case, sometimes we have to educate people on how to be educated, before they can begin to learn. I try to remain sympathetic overall to my students and that allows me to continue to help them. Thanks for your feedback!

  4. Oh, I feel I should add that all I have built-up in my mind with regards to writing knowledge is high-school level English and any novels I’ve read in my lifetime. The fact that college kids are being lazy writers just galls me to no end!

  5. I blame Twitter… and facebook… and MySpace… and cellphones and just about everything that’s designed to make things more convenient. The ART of writing is being lost in our society, not to mention the rules. I may be wrong for saying this, because there’s so MANY bright kids and adults out there, but I equate proper writing and grammar with intelligence. With all the social sites I’m on, if someone asks me, “F4F??” or “Hay, U wanna folowwww meee?? I folow yew…”, I say “No, because you’re too lazy to learn how to communicate properly with some hint of real intelligent thought… jackass.”
    Maybe I’m just being snarky and mean, and maybe I should just lighten up; they’re kids, after all.
    Naaaaaah! Give ’em hell! =D

  6. OMG -I loove this. I cnt beleive you forgot to mention the texting fenomenon that is hapening write now. Their are so many studnts in my classes that have a dificult time with this,i.e only righting as if they are texting, in addtion to not being able to spell! ***(Please note that my spelling errors are indeed intentional!!!!!)

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