Something to Think About, Part II

I’ve done a little thinking about this – thank you all SO much for your comments, please keep ’em coming – and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. Recognize that the jury is still out – I’m not sure I ever really make my mind up about anything (I think a closed mind is a terrible, terrible thing…):

* I can completely understand Kizz and Elena’s comments. It’s important to me that I set up a classroom environment that is safe and supportive, and I can easily see how my using old student emails would undermine those efforts.

That being said, however, I think that the emails that I’ve chosen to highlight are so far out of the realm of believability that it would be hard for most people to be overly concerned. I receive tons more email that are mildly annoying – along the lines of “hey mrs chili could you plz tell me what the homework was cuz i was asbent yesterday” – that I just let fly right past the guards.

Despite the image that I might portray here, I’m not a wicked grammar witch. I don’t correct my friends’ grammar, I don’t go around in the comments correcting incorrect comma use, I don’t roll my eyes when someone makes a spelling mistake. Want to know why? Because I’m a human being, not a dictionary or a style guide or a computer. I make mistakes, too.

My readers – and my students – rightly get the impression that I eat, sleep and breathe grammar because of the environment I’ve set up here and in my classrooms. That’s what I do HERE. My students are with me for eleven short weeks, and my job is to get them closer to understanding the rules and conventions of clear and proper communication during our brief time together. The things I write here are centered around the work that I do as a teacher, so of course I’m going to be focused on rules and conventions, and on noticing when they’re being ignored (or outright butchered).

THAT being said, I think it’s important for people to understand that this is not the ONLY part of me. I’m not the Grammar Gestapo. I’m sorry if ANYONE feels intimidated out of leaving comments here. While I recognize that I can’t control my readers’ feelings about my work and writing, I also don’t want to stifle anyone’s desire to communicate because they’re afraid of me. I don’t correct comments unless someone emails to ask me to do that (I find all KINDS of mistakes in my own comments on others’ sites that I don’t see until AFTER I hit “publish,” and I’ll email the blog author to ask them to fix my gaffs. California Teacher Guy has done that here, too – see above, re: human). I’m far more interested in getting a dialogue going than about whether or not all the commas are in the right places.

* I’ve been wondering why it’s okay for me to use shining examples of student work, but not the duds. I feel as though the pendulum has swung pretty far into the “we only want to accentuate the good – if we ignore the bad long enough, it’ll go away” mentality, and that’s not serving anyone. I’m betting no one would have objected to my using positive examples of really stellar student writing, and I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the attitude that goes alone with that.

* I DON’T ridicule my students. While I may go a bit overboard here, that is my right – this is my forum and it’s the perfect place to let off steam; it’s safe, it’s anonymous, and I get to hear back from other teachers who experience similar things, so I know I’m not out here alone – I never, EVER do or say anything even REMOTELY disrespectful in the classroom (or in the real world, even). You’re just going to have to take my word on that.

* Finally (for now, anyway), I think I’m going to continue to use the handout, at least for the short term. One of the most important points I try to get across to my students is that it is vitally important to understand what kind of image they make for themselves; I want them to be aware of how they seem to the professionals they’ll be dealing with in their careers.  I want them to start with me.

The head chef tells the story of a young man he had in the culinary program a year or two ago. This boy worked hard in his classes, earned decent grades, and wanted to do his internship at the Ritz in NYC. He worked diligently on his resume, wrote a great cover letter, and sent the packet off via registered mail. Then waited. And waited some more. Finally, after a few weeks, he went to Chef and asked him why he’d not heard back from the restaurant. Chef knew the manager of the place (Chef knows EVERYONE who is ANYONE in the culinary business) and was told that the student HAD been called. The manager reached the student’s voice mail (can you see this coming?) and heard “Hey, I can’t come to the phone. Leave me a fucking message and maybe I’ll call ya back.”



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12 responses to “Something to Think About, Part II

  1. Elena

    It was an exaggeration to say I was afraid you would correct my comments. Your writing is entertaining and I come here often. Thanks for sharing your world with us.

  2. Perhaps it would help commenters to make a more fair assessment if we knew what you said when you handed the e-mails out.

  3. Well, shoot, all this time I thought I was talking to a grammar computer.


  4. I think real world examples are very useful when teaching and the risks in this situation are very minimal. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s a good idea – even if it causes minor discomfort. The fact of the matter is that people are always looking for input when trying to figure out how they should feel about you and your capablities, and the more aware you are of that the better off you’ll be in the long run.

    I have seen emails ridiculed at work due to poor grammar or structure and it undermines the trustworthiness and authority of the author. These days it’s a good lesson to learn that you should be aware of how you’re presenting yourself in EVERY medium. It used to be that if you proof-read your resume, you were good. But now we have to be careful about what we write in our blogs and personal websites (or that we keep ourselves annonymous), what we choose for our email addresses (would you want to interview someone with an email address of, what we write in our emails, what we say in both incoming and outgoing voicemail messages, etc.

    I bet the culinary student wishes he’d had a teacher who used the mistakes of others to help him avoid learning the lesson the hard way.

  5. Elena, I took your comment to heart. I recognize that it’s really easy to turn people off with my pickiness, especially people who don’t know me in real life. I wish that I could adequately convey that I’m NOT a Grammar Nazi, that I DON’T go around correcting people (unless those people are my children or my students, in which case it’s my JOB to do that), and that I make a much bigger deal about the stuff I see in the real world HERE than I do in the real world. Yes, I’ll call or email (or leave sticky notes) in places where the errors are blatant and detrimental, but I do not go on full-on campaigns against people for making mistakes; I’m not that kind of person. I may have to send people who know me in real life here to testify that I really do let kindness and compassion dictate my behavior. I often come off badly here, just because it’s a good place for me to let off the sarcasm and frustration vent.

    Kizz, I hand out a sheet that explains the basics of email (the difference between To, CC, and BCC, for example) and give a lecture about how important it is to put out a proper image of oneself to other people. It’s not okay, I tell them, to talk to a teacher or a client or a boss the same way one might talk to a friend. I talk about social contracts and the idea that different situations call for different behavior. I talk about being respectful in one’s communication. Then I offer up these abominable emails as examples of inappropriate communication. I am a figure in their lives who’s deserving of respect or, at the very least, a run through spell-check; they get to practice on me before they lose the coveted internship at the Ritz.

    Sorry, Michael. You’re talking to a fallible, changing, inquisitive human being.

    Jules, that, I think, is where I’m going with this. My theory is that there are two kinds of learners – there are the “wet paint” people, and the “watchers.” My oldest, Punkin’ Pie, is a wet paint kind of gal; she’ll see the sign, and she’ll see the shiny paint, but she’ll still have to touch it herself to see if it’s REALLY wet. Beanie, on the other hand, will stand back and watch OTHER people get paint on their fingers (or watch them get in trouble for messing up the job) and learn her lesson that way. I’m aiming for everyone – but mostly at the wet paint kids – with this lesson, and if I can save just one of them from the trouble of getting dirty (or getting fired), then it’s worth it.

  6. Sorry that I missed the beginning of this discussion, I was consumed by work and cleaning.

    So here are my five cents. I think you were totally right handing out those examples. I am abhorred by the e-mails you’ve posted on your blog, the same way I am abhorred by the virtual products of my students that I keep receiving in my e-mail. If we don’t show them where they are wrong, how are they expected to know how to write a proper e-mail when they start looking for a job or when they start corresponding with their professors in college? I think it is our moral obligation to teach them proper writing (I think this is a job that all teachers share, so it’s not just the responsibility of English teachers).

    Since you removed all identifying information, the students that wrote those e-mails will not be mocked and your students will only focus on the grammatical mistakes. What could be wrong with that?

  7. Hey, Ms. Chili, take a look at this and let me know what you think?

  8. If any personal info is removed using good and bad examples of emails are fine.

    Using student created materials to illustrate the finer points of your instruction is a good answer to “Why do we have to know this?” that always seems to pop up in any class.

  9. drtombibey


    You should be at least as picky as the student’s future employers will be. Otherwise they can not know what they are getting into in the real world.

    Who would want to see a doctor who writes, “He done real good, ain’t he?” (unless the writer was doing so on purpose for effect in fiction.)

    Dr. B

  10. I agree with drtombibey; it is better to learn now than later. For me, the challenge used to be re-reading my work. Okay, it is still a challenge.

  11. whodoesshethinksheisanyway

    For some reason, I don’t stop by here as often as I should. Sorry.
    Last week a co-worker asked me to read something she was sending out. I went over it and I thought it sounded very good. She made her points, gave examples, and was very nice in asking for what she wanted. I told her to send it.
    A few minuets later my boss starts typing away, hits print and hands me the paper. He wanted me to send it out to all my new clients. I read it and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It made no sense at all. I mean, it’s my job and I had no idea what he was saying! In addition to that, there were no paragraphs(when I called him on that he said “Whatda mean?” I said “Dude, new thought, new paragraph!) and bad punctuation. He didn’t fix it while I was there, but you can be sure if it sucks, I won’t send it.
    I often ask you for help with grammar. TO,TOO,TO! Ugh! I am sure I have messed some up in this reply. Sometimes I am in a rush and don’t care. If it is for school or work though I make damn sure it is correct.
    I say, use the emails.

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