When I first started writing, I used a typewriter. If you made a mistake, you could correct it while the page was still in the typewriter. If you pulled it out and then found a mistake, you had to retype the page. Which took a couple of minutes. A pain in the neck. Out of self-defense, my proofreading got killer good.
By the time I started teaching, spellcheck had been invented. How lovely! It wasn’t perfect, still isn’t, but what an improvement! Take 30 seconds, spellcheck a document, and off you go.
Except students, bless their little hearts, often couldn’t be bothered to take that time. Facebooking and Instagramming and drinking beer took precedence. Though understanding, I could not condone such deleterious behavior.
I instituted an F For Failure to Run Spellcheck rule. Basically, kiddies, if you don’t have the wherewithal to take 30 seconds to spellcheck a ten page document, to hell with you.
When I taught at Vanderbilt, the Dean called and said a parent complained about my policy. I explained that, in Hollywood, if they found a typo in your work, they would stop reading it and go onto the next hopeful contestant. That calmed him right down.
True story: one of my clients wrote a query letter good enough to get an agent to read his screenplay. A stunning success. He sent it in. Time passed. Finally, he got an email, “Sorry. Typos.”
One Christmas, my children gave me an “F SPELLCHECK” rubber stamp. Soooo satisfying because when I slam it on a homework, it makes a loud noise. It also means I can stop reading the homework. The student gets the grade they asked for and I go on to the next hopeful contestant.
Did I mention I’m not good at remembering names? It becomes important later. That’s called Pay Off. At the beginning of every semester, I’d tell my students that, by the end of the semester, I probably wouldn’t know their name. Embarrassing, but true. One year, at graduation, a senior came up, parents in tow, and greeted me with, “What’s my name?!” I remembered! He nearly fainted.
To at last get to the point, Once Upon A Time, I gave a lecture on Parents Weekend. It went well. Nobody threw fruit.When it was over, I was packing my stuff and spotted a father steaming toward me like an out of sorts torpedo. Great.
The guy was ready to explode all over the room. His opening salvo was, “My name is Edward Snickelfritz and I am an educator.” I thought, “I’m just a teacher, dude.” He went on, “and I take grave exception to your F for spellcheck policy. My child had one spelling error and you gave her homework an F.”
Because, thank you Sweet Jesus, he had an unusual last name, I remembered his daughter.
Savoring the moment, knowing I’d never get another one like it, I stared at the guy, waited longer than I should have, and said, “Did she tell you she got three F’s in a row?” Which meant she could not learn. The educator shrank to the size of a Lilliputian and, in a voice not quite so homicidal, said “Oh… that’s an excellent policy.” He slimed away, no doubt to speak in an unpleasant tone to his child for lying.
When parents swoop in on a teacher — guns blazing — like the helicopter attack scene in APOCALYPSE NOW, the child has usually shaded the truth to favor them over the teacher.
That’s my F for Spellcheck story.
In case you couldn’t tell, I like telling it.