Is our children learning?
October 26, 2011 2:50 PM   Subscribe

How would one address atrocious grammar errors, poor sentence construction and spelling mistakes in the monthly email updates from administrators of your child's school?

Each month the school sends out an email containing a couple of paragraphs from each of the secondary and primary principals, dean of students and other administrators. This thing is just chock full of horrendous writing, poor grammar and other such things. Each paragraph has at least 3-4 obvious errors.

Additional relevant facts:

1. Your undersigned's daughter attends this school;
2. School is small (50-60 children per grade/15-18 per classroom);
3. This is an ex-urban public school located in semi-rural midwest US; and,
4. Each administrator writes his/her entire article for the newsletter (e.g., it's not written by a staffer).

The teachers are constantly reinforcing double-checking work, good grammar, proper punctuation and the like to my 4th Grader. And yet, the administrators send out this email that just ignores what's being taught. ("Do as I say, not as I do?"). The teachers are great, our daughter does very well, and we are "involved" parents in terms of helping out on field trips and such.

What are some constructive ways to bring this to their attention without coming across as a total nitpicker?
posted by webhund to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd start a blog.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:53 PM on October 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

You can offer to proofread their work, if you'd like.

Now, I'll admit I'm coming into this with an urban bias re: public schools (read: everyone is underfunded and overworked.) The thing is that people in high positions do not necessarily have good writing skills. It seems odd, yes, but I've seen Important Company People with just absolutely terrible writing. They tend to get (read: pay) other people to do this for them. Considering that you're dealing with public school administrators in this situation, I doubt they have the funds for that, and getting the teachers to do it would be taking up time they could be spending teaching/preparing to teach.
posted by griphus at 2:56 PM on October 26, 2011

Are these emails sent to the parents or to the students? If they're intended for parents and not specifically directed to the students, I don't think there's any compelling reason to do anything about the various errors. It doesn't matter.

As I read your question, you are concerned that the written product from administrators to you is inconsistent with the lessons being taught by teachers to your 4th grader. So neither of those two communications has anyone in common. So it doesn't matter.

What are some constructive ways to bring this to their attention without coming across as a total nitpicker?

There are none. If you bring this to their attention, you are a total nitpicker. More than that, if you bring it to their attention, you're a total nitpicker to picks nits that are not even connected to the person for whom you are ostensibly picking the nits. Your 4th grader will never know that the school administrators don't follow what the teachers teach 4th graders unless you somehow spill the beans.
posted by The World Famous at 2:56 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Give your daughter a red pen, have her edit the work, and give it back to the administration.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:58 PM on October 26, 2011 [26 favorites]

• Print it out.
• Mark it up, just like a proofreader would.
• Mail it to the Principal (anonymously, if you desire.)
posted by Thorzdad at 3:07 PM on October 26, 2011 [11 favorites]

This happened at a school that my son used to attend, and my technique was to introduce myself to the responsible staff members & principal and say, very, VERY, cheerfully: "I'm a copy editor and I'd love to help out with the newsletter!" I just sort of positioned myself as someone who would make everyone's lives much, much easier and reduce those pesky, pesky typos (!) that were all over our school's flyers, parent hand-outs, etc. It worked. It made a little bit of work for me, but I'm the school-volunteering type, and since the errors were really horrifying me on a weekly basis I was happy to do anything I could to make them go away.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:07 PM on October 26, 2011 [24 favorites]

I love-love-love AlliKat75's suggestion. The best chance you have is if a kid goes in and shows them up.

My mom has taught (4th grade) in a similarly-sized school for years, and both of us get worked up into cough/sputter/facepalm fits over newsletters and such that the administration sends home. She's tried to talk to them about it (with no effect) in the past, but has since given up. If it's something she sees before it gets sent home to the kids (like a letter that gets stapled to the homework folder or something), she corrects mistakes with whiteout before making copies, to save face for the school.

I hate to rain on your parade, but probably nothing will come of this, no matter how eloquently you bring it up. The administration still can't spell my mom's name right half the time, and she's been teaching at the school for nearly 20 years. Some people are just obstinately ignorant.
posted by phunniemee at 3:10 PM on October 26, 2011

Who actually writes it? the administrator or some assistant? I tend to be snarky so I would write a letter of concern and the tell the chief honcho that his assistant is making the school look
posted by Postroad at 3:14 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Use it to scare your child. "If you don't learn how to spell, you'll grow up and be a school administrator!"
posted by miyabo at 3:15 PM on October 26, 2011 [11 favorites]

I have to humbly agree with The World Famous on this one. I made the mistake of offering to proofread (after proofreading) one such missive from my son's charter school last fall. The school is, oddly enough, run by Turks, and everything they send home reads with much lost in translation.
Not to mention gaffes of the simplest sort.

It was arrogant of me, yes, but I had been spending quite a bit of time in the rarified world of MetaFilter where there/their/they're is the tip of the iceberg.

The administrators politely acknowledged my offer, then asked if I knew of any potential donors, and would I like to do some grant writing? (Not a possibility.)

On reading incoming comments as I attempt to answer, I'd go with BlahLaLa--nothing to lose there. Or AlliKat, if your child is up for it.

Now, as for what to do as a substitute teacher when there are misspellings all over the office walls at just about every school in the district, well, that could be my next AskMe right there.
posted by emhutchinson at 3:17 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best chance you have is if a kid goes in and shows them up.

Really? I haven't met a grownup, ever, who enjoys being humiliated by a child or their passive-aggressive parent.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:21 PM on October 26, 2011 [35 favorites]

I love-love-love AlliKat75's suggestion. The best chance you have is if a kid goes in and shows them up.

I think you mean "the best chance for that kid to get really shitty treatment for the rest of hir career at that school." Don't underestimate the ability for petty people to behave badly when embarrassed. And there's always petty people.

Personally I'd mark it up and mail it back to them anonymously, but I'm jerky AND self-protective like that. I suspect that it'll accomplish very little except perhaps to reduce the number of these things to go out.

I know you WANT them to be the people who are properly embarrassed by releasing a product this crappy. But they're not, and you likely can't make them be that way. Instead you might make them embarrassed at being called out, which they will endeavor to avoid happening again not by being better but by tossing responsibility onto someone else. Who won't have time and so it won't go out.
posted by phearlez at 3:43 PM on October 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

Really? I haven't met a grownup, ever, who enjoys being humiliated by a child or their passive-aggressive parent.

I'm just saying that, in my experience, the adult telling another adult (and in this case it was even a colleague) about the grammar areas resulted in poop all being done about it. So a kid may have better luck. Especially if she goes in and says something like, "Ms. [Administrator], my friends and I noticed that a lot of the things you wrote here don't follow the grammar rules that our teacher taught us, so I brought you some of our homework to remind you," kids-say-the-darnest-things style.
posted by phunniemee at 3:44 PM on October 26, 2011

Wow, don't know how that happened. ...about the grammar areas should be about the grammar mistakes.
posted by phunniemee at 3:45 PM on October 26, 2011

I sympathize with you. This would drive me utterly batshit crazy. Completely. But I agree that you can really only ignore it, or, as BlahLaLa said, cheerfully offer to "help out!!" and do it yourself.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:46 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the *teacher* were sending home these missives, I'd be concerned. As it is, you'll probably see more than one grammatical error by a teacher. I remember my kid getting a comment from a teacher about how she had "ALOT OF MISTAKES" on something. I had to sign it, and I did so after putting a slash between the A and the LOT.
But if the administrators are making these errors, I'm with those asking why it really matters to your kid's education. ALOT of people in the world are not at ease with writing. Bringing it up would be on the level of correcting someone's grammar orally. I would just let it go -- there's a larger lesson about tact here that matters more, imo.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 3:51 PM on October 26, 2011

I once saw two spelling errors and a split infinitive in a single sentence on the signboard in front of my daughter's school. I took a photo of the sign and emailed it to a a few local news outlets. One local newspaper printed it, and that's all that was needed to make sure it never happened again.
posted by deadmessenger at 3:54 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If they're not the ones teaching your kids, leave it alone. You're going to be involved with these people for the long haul and this might not be the hill you want to die on.
posted by thatone at 3:57 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Every principal for whom I've ever worked (I'm a HS English teacher for 8 years) has the WORST spelling and grammar of anyone in the school.

In education, a lot of people fail upwards, and that could be what's at play here. However, it's probably also something that they don't think much about what they're writing, and since they have a to-do list 18,000 pages long, it's often rushed. And while I understand that, I feel the same way you do - how can you expect our students to do something that the leader of the school is incapable of doing?

I would advise one of the two suggestions you've already got:
1. Have your kid mark it up and turn it in as "extra credit" (hey, it's real world practice, right?!)
2. Offer to proofread the newsletter and follow through

Those are great ideas. Number one helps your kid, number two helps her school. Win-win.

However, if they refuse your help and you're uncomfortable with putting your daughter in that position (which is reasonable), let it go and keep modeling proper spelling and grammar with your daughter. Hell, it gives you more ethos, and parents can always use a little extra ethos with their kids. :-)

Good luck. I really do feel your pain.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:05 PM on October 26, 2011

School Board member here. I've had some e-mails from parents about this kind of thing and I always forward them to our superintendent and CC our communications department chair. I find it horrendous and embarrassing and our superintendent does too. I don't mean a typo here or an error there, but really truly egregious stuff all over the place.

If it's bad, I think you're within the bounds of reason to point it out to a Board member, the superintendent, or the principal of the school. I wouldn't make a big stink but point it out as "I'm on your side, I love our school, and I want our school to come off better than this."

If you do forward it to the local paper or a local news blog, it will stop, but depending on how small a town it is that may engender bad feelings directed at you personally.

"The school is, oddly enough, run by Turks"

One of these Gulen Movement schools? Not odd at all, they're all over the U.S. We have one too. They've stirred up some controversy in some quarters.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:54 PM on October 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Exactly this thing happened to us. I'm an editor so it was nearly impossible, but I left the first mailing alone, as it was from the office staff and I didn't want to aggravate them (NYC alternative public high school, talk about overworked) ... After the third messed-up piece, where my kids were noticing the errors, I felt obligated to "offer my services" and copyedit. They took me up on the offer, I ended up writing and editing lots for them, and now years later, there's an actual official position, Parent Publisher, who kind of oversees everything going from the school to homes!
posted by thinkpiece at 6:37 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I fear that your story, thinkpiece, may be a lucky exception. From my experience as a parent's organization chairman of a small school (those were the days) I'd tread extremely lightly around this business. It's kind of tricky to re-establish a good conversation with "the teachers" once you've overstepped the line; and this kind of blanket criticism fares especially poorly, even if it is completely justified.

(That said, I can't guarantee I wouldn't try to say something about their poor writing in any case; - guarantee even less that I would not make some undiplomatic snarky remark during a meeting before I could stop myself.)

[Pro tip: make a scrapbook of the worst bloopers. It will lighten up your days ten years from now, trust me]
posted by Namlit at 12:19 AM on October 27, 2011

Yeah, do not have your kid fix it. I corrected a teacher's spelling once and the rest of my year with her was hell. Subsequent years spent with teachers who liked her were also hell. Do not do this.

These people are busy, and frankly the administrators don't care about spelling. Offer (politely!) to proofread it or learn to ignore it is my vote.
posted by AmandaA at 6:37 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

As I read your question, you are concerned that the written product from administrators to you is inconsistent with the lessons being taught by teachers to your 4th grader. So neither of those two communications has anyone in common. So it doesn't matter.
What they have in common is that these are the adults charged with supervising the education of students, and they don't care about details that are important. It belies a lack of concern. Maybe the actual teachers know grammar and teach it correctly, but how would these administrators know if the teachers weren't? It might not be so bad that these individuals can't use the language correctly. It IS so bad that they can't recognize the importance of making sure their communications are correct.
posted by gjc at 7:06 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Reporting back in here after reviewing the great suggestions, receiving yet another horribly error-filled newsletter, and after parent-teacher fall conference. At the parent-teacher conference, I asked child's teachers as to wrote the newsletter. The two teachers exchanged semi-furtive glances and asked back why I wanted to know. I figured something was up (they're great teachers!), so just laid it out. They both snickered, smiled and immediately offered up that this was apparently a source of considerable fun and passive-rebellion against the administration.

So I went back home, marked up all 3 newsletters and mailed anonymous copies to administrative staff. :)

Thanks for all the ideas!
posted by webhund at 10:22 AM on December 9, 2011

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