I remember sitting in an American culture course at Geneseo and the professor asking, “What in Geneseo best represents Americana?” The class of aspiring educators quickly brainstormed the token Main Street bagel shop, the church bell that rings at noon, and the obvious American flag that hangs in the center of town. A girl from New York City whispered, “I think the flashing o in motel with the faulty light bulb represents what I believe to be Americana.” Brilliant. Intuitive. Naïve. I now know the best answer to that question. The sign that bears a misspelled word or missing apostrophe has become what best characterizes mainstream America. How sad.
Last year, while sitting in my office, I heard the text notification on my phone ring. After opening the text message from my assistant principal friend, I noticed a picture of a sign that he took on the way to work: “Chiken Cutlets. 1.99 lb.” The initials “KKK” were written in graffiti on top of the cheap chiken cutlets. I sighed after immediately seeing the spelling mistake and then began to analyze this sign. How could a business owner not proofread a sign he was going to put on Route 231 for thousands of potential customers to see? Why spend so much energy in ensuring chiken and cutlets were in different spray painted fonts? And, of course, why would someone feel compelled to graffiti “KKK” to a sign offering cheap chiken cutlets? There is something definitely wrong here. Feeling as if he should help the business owner fix the problems on the sign in order to attract customers, my friend reached out to the owner. Driving down Route 231 the next morning, the sign was fixed…partially. “KKK” was spray painted white but the chiken cutlets were still 1.99 per pound. As an English nerd, I showed my colleague the picture of the sign to which she replied, “The price is right—but I couldn’t buy them because of the egregious spelling!” I beg to differ. Is the price right? What should chiken cost?
As a teacher of English, I used to challenge my students to create a notebook to track all of the errors on signs throughout the school building. It was their real life examination of grammar and usage since I never believed in “old school” grammar instruction. Their notebooks were saturated after a week. All year they were going to the bathroom in the mens bathroom (no apostrophe). The homecoming poster told them that they (whoever that was) would see them they’re. Don’t forget the dance since its on Friday night. Countless errors witnessed by students, teachers, leaders, parents, and staff members. I thought if we “saw something we should say something” as mandated reporters. Why do we become quiet when we witness something that is obviously incorrect?
Throughout the years, I have realized that we are more about what we read than what we eat. In exploring literature on leadership and the amazing blogs written by local educators such as Don Gately, Tony Sinanis, Dan McCabe, and Dennis Schug, I continue to realize that true leadership is the ability to ensure that best practice is present in classrooms, in the hallway, on buses, online, etc. Best practice doesn’t allow for mistakes to be seen year after year by generations of students who may begin to believe that bathroom signs do not need apostrophes. With this in mind, I challenge all teachers and leaders to find those mistakes before September. Seek out what needs to be updated in our school buildings for the students’ sake. Our students need to know that chiken cutlets shouldn’t cost a penny and ignorance is expensive.