Mosquito (not G rated!)

As a writing teacher, I had the privilege of enjoying many funny student writing errors. 

The university-wide writing exam to see if students are ready to graduate was always a great source for hilarious mistakes, but I only remember two.

“Write about a memorable experience or learning activity you had while studying at XDXU. What made it unforgettable? Describe one experience in detail.” A girl wrote about going with her botany classes to Costa Rica. They lived in tents and spent each day studying the fauna of Costa Rica. It was a pretty average paper until she got to the experience. “It was always hard to sleep in the tents because of the insects. Once I spent the whole night beating off one mosquito.” 

“How is your parent’s generation different from yours? Give examples of their youth and give examples of yours to illustrate your argument.” A boy wrote how his generation is busier and better educated, with most people finishing high school and going on to college. He wrote about music and social mores and he wrote about the change HIV brought into the “free love” idea. “Back in my parent’s day it was all voo-lay-voo-ku-shay-ah-vek-mua-say-swa.”

Student papers were also a great source of amusement. I had a lovely girl student years ago who truly felt she was above proofreading. It was very frustrating because that ONE thing was holding her back from an A. Consequently she was ALWAYS angry at me for “giving” her Bs and I was frustrated because she refused to do the one thing that would have made her happy with her grade. It came time for their group research projects and hers was about using personality testing as a way to screen applicants for a particular job. She and her group members did fine research and had a basically excellent paper — but, it had not been proofread. Instead of “tests” she had written “testes” every single time*.

Spell check makes some good mistakes for students, too. My favorite was a girl’s paper on Horatio Alger. Spellcheck corrected that to “hereto lager” and she never went through the paper to see what happened! 

After 30+ years of teaching English, I have a long list of these even without including those I make on a daily basses.;-)


*It made the paper unreadable (I have the maturity level of a 12 year old boy when it comes to things like that). I also realized that finally I HAD HER. I gave (truly, I gave) the paper a D, a big, fat red D and wrote on the top, “You absolutely MUST proofread your work if you want people to take your ideas seriously!” I then highlighted every “testes” throughout the paper. It was 25% of their grade. I hoped to get her attention. I succeeded. She took it back to her seat, scowled at me in fury, turned the paper over, fumed visibly, turned it over, looked at the first page (at least 5 uses of the word “testes”) flipped through the pages, saw the numerous highlighted testes throughout. She came up after class and asked if she could revise it. I was not allowed (or, as they write, aloud) to give students that opportunity, but I did give it to her. “Fix it. You cannot get an A on the project after this, but you can certainly get a grade higher than a D. But Brooke, now do you understand why you need to proofread?” She gave me the revision the following week and at the end of the semester, in my mailbox, was a manila envelope containing all her work, rewritten and corrected. I think it took real testes to do that knowing it would not change her grade.

13 thoughts on “Mosquito (not G rated!)

  1. Martha you have wonderful stories to tell. Have you written a book on your life as teacher. If you have done it, please tell me from where I can get it.

    • You would have been OK. I didn’t “ding” my students for small mistakes of commas and such, just the big ones that are usually indications of carelessness.

      • You have no idea the depth and breadth of my inability to spot errors including missing words, wrong words, misspelled words, leftover pieces of former text. I’m bad.

  2. What a delightful look at your memories. It was worth giving a D to make such a worthwhile change of attitude. That student will always appreciate what you did for her! 🙂

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