Along with getting used to making lunches again, I’m back to making space in my brain for deeper thoughts about what and how my seven-year-old is learning. And I anticipate right along with her what her new teacher is going to be like.
When school ended last term, one of my friends posted on her facebook status that her son’s teacher recorded a few of his grades wrong. Again. Some discussion and commiserating then ensued among her friends, who’d experienced similar discontents with their kids’ teachers. One of these noted that she was foregoing giving teacher gifts that summer, citing ‘inappropriate use of apostrophes on class newsletters’ as one of the reasons.
When I point out errors in others’ writing my aim is to laugh with the writer – not at them; lord knows I’ve made my own errors (as noted many times here). But I, too, can be a Grammar Snob when it comes to what I assume are the basic techniques of decent writing; especially with the people who are out there teaching my kids.
It’s one thing when what we get was written by a volunteer – it’s a diverse community I live in. But much of what I get from the teachers and administration is rife with basic grammar and punctuation mistakes I would only expect from someone much younger or less-schooled.
So I worry, if they don’t know better at this point, what other errors are they letting slide in our kids’ writing?
And more ‘lecture and hector’-style messages
The other problem I often notice in the notes my daughter brings home are what Brown and Davis call a ‘lecturing and hectoring’ tone. They even use such a note as an example in their book – and anyone with kids in school has likely been mentally transported back to their childhood where their least-favourite teacher wagged his or her finger at them while hammering home the merits of the Golden Rule.
Nowhere else do I see such regular use of ALL CAPS, bold and underlining – SOMETIMES ALL AT THE SAME TIME, lest you miss any part of the all-important message. And as often happens with messaging that’s meant to sound authoritative, the passive voice is also heavily relied upon (as it just was here).
Reader research has shown for decades that using those techniques to get someone’s attention will often have the opposite of the effect the writer is going for; and they do nothing to help second-language English readers grasp information.
The bottom line is this: because educators are in the business of teaching, it’s easy to assume that they will have a solid grasp of basic spelling, grammar and communication principles. But that is often not at all the case; or, they’ve just become ‘rusty’ over time – and, to be fair, this happens to most of us.
And like doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers and other people in a profession, educators can often benefit from plain language. Otherwise, it’s all-too-easy for them to fall into the habit of expressing themselves in a way that only makes sense to others in their profession.