A Sticky Problem: Teachers and Grammar

Laura Diamond at the AJC’s education blog Get Schooled discusses a sticky problem: teachers who use poor grammar in communication with parents.

Many of us admit we have poor grammar and horrible spelling skills. So why do so many of us get concerned when we see these same faults in teachers?

Can you respect a teacher with poor grammar? Do you worry he or she won’t be a good teacher?

OK, so I admit I make typos on occasion, and I’ve even done it on handouts or assignments.  If I catch them I correct them, but there have been times when I haven’t caught them because I didn’t proofread carefully.  However, when I send e-mails to parents, I always proofread carefully.  I am acutely aware that parents will have little faith in an English teacher who makes grammatical mistakes, and if my children had such a teacher, I would be concerned.  I suppose my answer to Laura Diamond’s question depends on how bad the mistakes are.  If I see an obvious typo in a teacher’s communication to me, I’m forgiving.  If I see embarrassing grammar mistakes that indicate the problem is not proofreading but knowledge of grammar, I do question whether or not the teacher can be effective.  Engaging students is great, but if you don’t have good communication skills, how much knowledge are you going to be able to impart?  Honestly, good communication skills apply to everyone, and all teachers ostensibly have college degrees; therefore, I don’t think it is expecting too much to insist that they be able to communicate using proper grammar.

Teachers are also our models.  When I was young, it never occurred to me that a teacher could be wrong about a fact.  If my teacher said it, I thought it must be so, and when I was presented for the first time with evidence to the contrary, I remember questioning the accuracy of that evidence!  I don’t think teachers need to be perfect, but they do need to be aware of how much stock students put into what they say and do, especially in elementary school.

Have you encountered this problem?  What’s your take?

9 thoughts on “A Sticky Problem: Teachers and Grammar”

  1. To me, a typo is not a grammar mistake. A mistake of keyboarding or proofreading as part of the writing process? Likely. I'm very forgiving of typos. I do try to catch as many of my own as I can. I can't claim 100%.

    As for poor grammar—I can think of any number of teachers who make me cringe. I can't believe that so many send out information to parents that have so many basic mistakes: it's/its, there/their/they're, loose/lose, subject/verb agreement issues, etc.

    I feel like these kinds of things paint the whole school in a poor light—that I will be judged by the lowest common denominator we have on staff.

  2. It doesn't take too much reading in the edublogosphere to see that there are teachers who don't have a very good grasp of grammar. Every time I come across a grammatical gaffe, I shudder. I really don't know what to do about it. If a teacher has a credential or certificate or license, then somebody somewhere decided that he or she was qualified to teach–but that official validation doesn't make up for poor communication skills. Grr.

  3. As for other content areas (Science, History, etc), I believe it is more forgiving to see teachers' grammatical errors; they are not specialized in the field of writing. As for the Language Art Department, I have more difficulty overlooking writing errors, especially consistent ones. Unfortunately, even Language Arts teachers are given little to no instruction on teaching grammar. My degree required me to take one class on teaching grammar, and the class was a waste of time. It involved the teacher assigning group of us to teach the class a lesson on grammar (a lesson of our choice). When I secured a teaching job, I spent hours devouring a grammar textbook to refresh my skills. To my great disappointment, I know many Language Arts teachers who did no such thing! I think that our certification should force us to learn the content that we should be teaching: grammar!

  4. My first semester in college I had to write a short essay (I can't remember now what it had to be about). I took my draft to my senior English teacher to proofread– I ended up with a D on the paper. Needless to say I was shocked and devasted.

    How was it that my own English teacher could have missed 11 comma errors?! I'm still baffled. I completely lost confidence in my 12th grade English teacher as well as myself. Though it could go unsaid, I did not take any more of my work to her for proofreading.

    Good news, I recovered from that horrible grade and pulled an A in the class. Although, it took my a long time to gain confidence in my writing after that because I just settled it in my mind that I was terrible at grammar. In our program at Auburn we have to take a course strictly devoted to grammar. Before taking this class I was extremely scared because I just knew I would not do well. I made an A in the class and am no longer terrified of grammar. I am not mistake free but I don't cringe everytime someone says, "Where should this comma go?" anymore either!

  5. I find grammar errors in teachers horrifying. (I taught Latin for some time, so grammar and I are good friends.)

    When I was in high school, I used to go around with white-out and a pen fixing grammar errors, because it seemed so wrong that a school could promulgate errors. Occasionally I would get in trouble for this (defacing others' work or something, I suppose). I learned an important lesson from this, but it is not at all the one teachers would have wanted me to.

  6. Andromeda, I didn't really learn grammar well until I took Latin in college. I had the parts of speech OK, but I learned direct objects and indirect objects for the first time in Latin.

    I'm sure I've mentioned it on this blog before, but the teachers' lounge at one of my previous schools had a sign on it that said "Teacher's Lounge." Nice of that one teacher, whoever he/she was, to let us all use his/her lounge.

  7. I do not care what subject a teacher teaches, he or she should at least know the basics of correct grammar and at the VERY least proofread! In some of my non-English classes, both in high school and college, I would cringe when my instructors would use horrible grammar. If I dared correct them, I would always get the same response, “I don’t teach English. What do you expect?” Seriously? Ok, you may not have a degree in English, but I do know you have a four year degree in some form of Education, so could you please act like it? Like Dana said, teachers should be our models and no matter what classroom you may be in, English or otherwise, correct grammar is simply the correct way to speak.

    Born and raised in Alabama, correct grammar and proper English is sometimes hard to come by, even in the Education realm. Obviously, double negatives are a “biggy” down here, and I have honestly heard teachers say things as horrible as, “I ain’t got no pencil for you to borrow.” I try with every paper, conversation, and email to be the most grammatically correct I can and always proofread, proofread, proofread! If teachers are to lead by example, we should start with the most important form of ourselves: how we communicate.

    Kelly A. Mezick

    Auburn University

    Auburn, Alabama

  8. I am a certified English teacher. I was not "required" to take a single grammar course in my pursuit of a BA in English from a state university. In fact, I just looked at my transcript, and realized most of the courses were in literature: Shakespeare, British Lit., Australian Lit., Women's Lit., etc. In my certification course-work at the graduate level, in my content area, I was not required a single course in grammar. I have found that I've had to basically teach myself, through texts, even Youtube videos, on the specifics of particular grammar issues. I was glad to see others commenting on this topic. I am not looking for anyone to blame, at this point. However, it is definitely a concern of mine.

  9. I never had a grammar class. I learned more grammar in Latin than in any of my English courses. My "grammar" course, if you can call it that, was a course called Dialectology. It was interesting, and I learned a lot about dialects, but not how the language works. It wasn't until I had to teach grammar that I really learned it. I hear the same story from other English teachers. It took me a few years teaching it to feel very comfortable with it.

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