The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"I have a spelling checker
It came with my PC;
It plainly marks four my revue
Mistakes I cannot sea.
I've run this poem threw it,
I'm sure your pleased too no,
Its letter perfect in it's weigh,
My checker tolled me sew."....  ...Janet Minor.

Commentary of the Day - March 10, 2002:  "Kewl Ur Jets!  This Aint Skool."  Guest commentary by Felice Prager.

Yesterday, I saw the words fued  and occured  in the headline of a very popular Internet provider's news page.  I looked them up in the dictionary to make sure I wasn't losing my mind.  I was right.  They were spelled wrong.  This morning on a major news station on TV, the moving news banner at the bottom of the screen included the word truely.  I knew without checking that they didn't even take the time to reread the text.

I see errors like these and I start screaming, "Proofread!  Proofread!" as the rest of the world is screaming, "Kewl Ur Jets! This Aint Skool."  No matter what I do, no matter how much I try, I open my eyes and I see them.  They stick out on the page like chocolate stains on a white wedding gown. To me, they are as evident as a bad hair day.  Right there in front of my eyes, they are yelling at me, "Hey, look at us!  We're misspelled, and you can't do a thing about it!"

In the back of my brain I'm thinking, "How did those people ever get their jobs?"  I'm mentally wording sarcastic letters to the editor explaining that they can purchase a paperback dictionary for less than ten bucks.  More importantly, I'm asking, "Doesn't anyone care anymore?"

I cannot tell a lie: I sweat the small stuff.  True, I probably sweat more small stuff than ten or twenty people combined.  I suppose correcting the spelling on my husband's love letters twenty years ago was proof of that.  It also doesn't help that, in mixed company and on a regular basis, I yell at the TV every time someone mispronounces or misuses a word.  "There is NO th in height, you moron!"  Perhaps the fact that my kids introduce me as NM, NM being a shortened form of Neurotic Mom, should be a sign that I should lighten up a bit.

But I can't.

And I don't think I want to.


I wasn't always NM.  There was a time when I was NT.  Neurotic Teacher,

In my first year of teaching, I prepared a list of words that bothered me when they were misspelled.  I gave my students a copy of this list and told them I wouldn't tolerate these words misspelled in their work.  (I said things like, "I won't tolerate…" when I was a teacher.  It made me feel so powerful.  The power of the red felt tip marker.  The power of the old-fashioned grade book.)  However, with that word list, I didn't care if they glued the list to the back of the head of the person who sat in front of them.  I just didn't want to see those words spelled incorrectly in my student's work.  I explained the concept of first impressions to my students and told them that when representing themselves with the written word, it was fundamental to get it all right.

Take the word a lot.  It's always two words, but many people incorrectly spell it as one.  Knowing this, I'd have my students recite things like "A lot is always always always always always always always always always always always always TWO WORDS."  And when someone spelled it wrong anyway, I'd go a little crazy.  I'd dramatically jump up and down and bang my head against the wall.  And then I'd plop a dictionary on the kid's desk.  "Find alot!"  I'd say.  I'd watch the kid flip through the pages, and then eventually I'd hear, "Hey, Miss Klein, it's not here."

"Of course, it's not there!" I'd dramatically emphasize.  "It's not a word.  It's TWO words."

Then I'd make the kid write a lot a few hundred times for practice - to help him remember for the next time. Nowadays, that would be considered corporal punishment, but when I taught, it was considered reinforcement.  And it worked.  By the end of the year, there wasn't a student in my class who would spell a lot wrong again.

One day while I was still teaching, I went out for my 42-minute lunch break and ran into an ex-student at the deli where I got my coffee.  By this time, he had become a CPA.  "Yo, Miss Klein," he said.  "How ya doin?  Ya know, you were wrong about a lot.  It is one word."

"No, it's not," I said.

"Yes, it is," he said.

Then he explained that he had written a report for his boss.  His boss called him into his office, told him the report was excellent, but suggested that the next time he correct his spelling prior to submitting it.  His boss had the two separate words a lot circled in red on his report.

At that point, I realized I was fighting a terrible monster because a lot is always always always always always always always always always two words…unless your boss says it's not, especially if your boss is also the guy who writes your check.


Fast forward to now.  My kid comes home from school.  "I have to memorize the demonstrative pronouns," he says.  I dig up from the cobwebs of my brain the words this, that, these, and those.  My kid shows me a sheet the teacher distributed from which to study.  On it he has the title Demonstrative Pronouns.  Then he has this, that, these, and there.

"THERE isn't a pronoun," I tell my kid.  "It's an adverb. He should have had those on your list."

"Not according to my teacher," he says.

"Want me to call him and explain demonstrative pronouns to him?" I ask.

"Please don't, Mom.  Be a writer, not a teacher," he says.

"But he's teaching you wrong," I say.

"I don't care," says my kid. "He's the one who gives me my grade.  You hung up your grade book when I was born.  Remember? "

He writes my check.

He gives me my grade.


My kids communicate with me at times via email and instant messages.  We are a 21st Century Family.  For instance, my younger son is saving for a drum set.  I have to be honest; I haven't been doing a thing to help my kid in this direction.  In fact, my house is already too noisy.

The other day I received an email from this son with an extended explanation and photos of a $500 set of blue drums.  In the explanation was something about how drumming helps a student's math scores.  He also mentioned that for a mere $59, silencing covers could be purchased and shipped with the drum set.  I thought this method of persuasion was very creative on his part.

I sent my kid an email back with, "Nice drums.  So how many lawns do you have to mow to get $500?"

I sent him a second email, "Higher math scores are over-rated.  When, in the real world, will you ever use calculus anyway?"  I know my reply will come back to haunt me.

As my sons get older, life has them spending more time with friends and less time with us.  We pass in the night.  I know this is the natural progression.  I compensate by making great meals that teen aged boys can't pass up no matter how hard they try.  Then we eat as a family, and we talk, laugh, discuss, and catch up on the little details they feel comfortable enough to share.  Then they leave.

Computers and the Internet have kept us close.  Just last week, I was sitting here writing, and an Instant Message popped up:

Drums987: Ur fone wuz bz, NM. Im at ryans.  Can i sleep over?  His mom sez its ok w/her if its ok w/u.

I cringe at his ease at writing in Computer English and try to decipher what he's written.  I take a deep breath.  I try to recall the joy of childbirth.  I try to recall all the hours that I spent reading to him.  I think about the hours that I spent helping him with schoolwork.  I try to remember all the essays I've proofread for him.

SurfPrincess12345: I don't understand.  That's not English.  Spell it right for the answer you want.

Drums987: Ur such a pain, NM!!!!!!!!

SurfPrincess12345: Sleep where?  I can't hear you. Spell it right.

Drums987: MOM!  Why cant u b like other moms?

SurfPrincess12345: That would be so boring.  Now, spell it right or come home!

Drums987: U R such an NM.

SurfPrincess12345: So what else is new?  Spell it right!


SurfPrincess12345: I wuv you, too.  Call me in the morning.

It dawns on me that this is a battle I cannot win.

©2002 Felice Prager
Felice Prager is a freelance writer from Scottsdale, Arizona. Her work has appeared in international, national, and local publications, as well as many Ezines.  Email:   Website: WRITE FUNNY! at


Return to main commentary.

© 2002 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.