As the school year begins, teachers prepare for their parent night, often called Open House. In a short period of time, they attempt to communicate their expectations for the school year. Homework policies are explained, behavior expectations discussed, schedules and policies are covered. There might be a few minutes for parents’ questions. But how many parents walk out of the classroom really understanding what was said? This article in Slate magazine explains the disconnect one parent felt after trying to understand what her child’s teacher was saying. Parents Left Behind. The culprit? Jargon. The language specific to teaching and education.
As in most professions, there is a lexicon of words specific to them. I could not hold a conversation with a nuclear physicist, a computer programmer, or an audiologist about the details of their jobs unless they generalized and simplified their language to match my knowledge base. Likewise, teachers have their own language. As new educational initiatives are continually being developed and publishing companies scramble to align with these, along comes the new jargon to go with them. We must learn, speak, and write this language. It comes with the job.
Common Core State Standards, for example, is the new initiative in curriculum and instruction that 46 states have adopted. These Standards are a guide for what content is to be taught and what skills students need to master to be career and college ready. Naturally there is a new set of vocabulary that go with Common Core. In math, for example, the content is organized within a domain. At each grade level, there are several standards for each domain, and these are organized into clusters of related standards. Domain, standard, cluster. Eight practices are to be used by young mathematicians. In addition to attending to precision and constructing viable arguments, students will look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. In the first grade.
In English Language Arts, students are expected to consider varying perspectives as they read increasingly complex texts and display their understanding within a performance- based assessment. A fifth grader needs to orient the reader and organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally while writing a narrative.
Beyond curriculum, there’s plenty more jargon: criterion-referenced tests, positive behavior intervention, data-driven instruction, differentiation, metacognition, brain-based learning, and lots of acronyms to go with them. But this is the language of the profession. What becomes problematic is when teachers, and policy, and mission statements aren’t understandable to parents or the public. Potentially more damaging is when the jargon distances or removes us from the reason we teach: the students. Andy Allan, a science teacher who blogs at sciencegeek.net supports this by saying heavy usage of education jargon says to parents: “You are not one of us” when parents are supposed to be our partners.
So, a simple reminder to my teaching colleagues – remember your audience when speaking to parents. And parents, if you don’t understand, ask for explanations. In plain English.
I’ll leave you with this. Andy Allan, just for fun, created this:
- Parents Left Behind (slate.com)