Living in the age of Twitter is no excuse for bad grammar. So says the "Grammar Goddess," Coon Rapids High School teacher Stephanie Tutt, who believes it's possible to maintain classic standards in an era of ever-evolving language.
"I do teach good, old-fashioned grammar," said Tutt, who teaches English, writing and honors classes to sophomores, juniors and seniors. "We've diagrammed sentences, we've learned the parts of speech. I can get nerdy about grammar, in a joking way. I tell them I'm the 'Grammar Goddess,' and they roll their eyes. But when it comes right down to it, the kids will often say, 'I haven't been taught this. This is interesting.' "
Tutt, who has taught at Coon Rapids since 1998, said it's important for students to master the longer forms of reading and writing, even as they're immersed in a sea of instant communication.
"I have definitely noticed over the years that students' ways of communicating and modes of communicating have drastically changed," she said. "I tell students we've entered the 'snippet phase,' where it's a tweet or a post or a photo on Instagram. So I think our young people have not built up the stamina to write a longer piece or express themselves in different ways.
"I tell them that it's so important to have an appreciation of language. They don't know where they'll be in life or what their job will be. I want them to be able to write academically and be able to send out e-mails without errors."
But this teacher is far from an inflexible schoolmarm. Tutt said she has adapted her approach over the years, to the benefit of both teacher and students. For example, one of her classes recently read "The Crucible," Arthur Miller's classic play applying the hysteria of the Salem witch trials to the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era.
Tutt and her student teacher, Christal Ruppert, gave an assignment in which the students had to create a tweet from a character's perspective and show an understanding of the character.
"And they came up with the most hilarious tweets that showed they absolutely understood the characters," Tutt said. Pithy communication has been around for awhile, she noted.
"My 10th-graders just studied the Gettysburg Address. It's 10 sentences long, but it's brilliant," she said. "So you can have a powerful message in a shorter piece. But you have to be aware of how you're wording things, your tone, your audience. You'll never regret practicing writing. And then if you write a short snippet, it will be more powerful, because you'll have a mastery."
Coon Rapids recently gave extra support to its writing program, opening a writing center at the high school where students can get help with writing questions.
"The age of media has changed teaching and how we approach it with students," Tutt said. "Their writing might be different, but it's not that they're not powerful thinkers or critical thinkers.
"They approach things differently, and so I approach teaching differently. And I would say I enjoy teaching more than I did when I started."