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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