Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Words We Use (OR Wherein I Get Pedantic)

Words are weapons oft wielded too wildly.

A picture can be worth a thousand words, but unless your name is Nick Cave, Neil Gaiman, or Octavia Butler you don't speak in pictures. We teachers need to be more aware of the words we use and the context hidden within them.

There are dozens of examples of this, but I'm going to focus on one. One example that gets under my skin every time I hear it or read it. One way that we talk about our classrooms that we should be better than.

These are trenches.
This is not.

I know what we mean when we describe our work as "the trenches". Teaching is hard. It's exhausting. It often feels like a battle. Not in our classrooms, but from the outside. I haven't yet experienced a year where public education didn't feel like it was under attack from somewhere, be it a district or governor fighting against a fair contract, or an Education Secretary who's stated goals are contrary to public education. These external forces can push us into a battlefield mindset.

That doesn't translate when we talk about teaching using battlefield language, however. Non-educators don't think about all those external forces when they think about teaching. They think about us in a room with kids. Period. When we say we're in the trenches, whether we mean to or not, we're putting this image of a classroom into the world:

This is not a place of joyful learning. This is not where someone wants to be, wants their children to be. This is a hellscape. This is where the young of a country go to be destroyed. These are trenches.

Words matter. Words should be chosen with care. I may have dozens of mini-education crusades, but this one comes up every time I'm allowed to speak to a group of teachers. If I do nothing else for the profession, I hope to eradicate the use of "trenches" to describe anything even adjacent to education. 

Classrooms are places of joy, love, and a fantastic madness. The word should call to mind images of rock and roll unicorns prancing on rainbows. Colorful, bright, and still a little confusing. Or whatever imagery best describes your ideal classroom. Find the language to express that. Please.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

1 comment:

  1. It never occurred to me that using the phrase "in the trenches," could be offensive. Typically, I thought of it as almost a badge of honor to indicate people who are out there really rolling their sleeves up, getting their hands dirty, and doing the real work.

    That being said, I do wish that more educators had the same optimism as you, and showed the same respect both towards students and the profession itself.