Friday, September 22, 2017


I think I understand most of the things that other English speaking teachers say to me, unless they're from the UK, then I only understand about half. It's because of the jargon that I struggle, or rather, I don't struggle because when anyone talks at me with lots of acronyms or words like "provisioning" or expressions like "learning modules" my mind goes numb as I nod, make facial expressions that I hope are suitable, and wait for the moment when they seem to be pausing for my reply.

Every profession has it's jargon, of course, and it serves a purpose, often condensing complex ideas into word nuggets that make professional-to-professional communication more efficient. I know, for instance, that when a businessperson says "synergy" or "disruptor" or "market cap" she is using a sort of code for a whole set of ideas or dynamics that her fellow businesspeople understand. Likewise, the teaching profession has its jargon, a secret language that I really don't speak even if I can sometimes noodle out the meaning through contextual cues.

I suppose if I spent my day hanging around other teachers, I would pick it up pretty quickly, but I've spent my entire career in cooperative schools where my colleagues are mostly the parents of the kids I teach and while there is jargon used by parenting "experts" and educators, it's rarely used by us in our day-to-day life where we mostly engage in simple jargon-free dialog.

While there are obvious benefit to professional jargon, the biggest downside is that if people don't learn to turn if off and on depending on circumstances, the very words that make communication more efficient within a profession can also create a barrier to comprehension for the uninitiated and sometimes it seems that jargon is actually used for exactly that purpose: to make things seem more complex than they are, to keep the outsiders confused and at bay. At least that's how I feel much of the time when I attend professional conferences or seminars.

It shouldn't bug me, but it does. I mean, I don't think education is a particularly complicated thing and I worry that our instinct to make it seem more complicated than it needs to be, and jargon is only the superficial manifestation of that, is harmful. It tends to put the focus on the "teaching" or the "curriculum" or the "standards" or even the facilities, making it about us, the grown-ups, rather than the children. It's the children who need to lead the way by asking and answering their own questions, by satisfying their own curiosity, by engaging in their own experiments. My job, the job of the adults, is simply to provide a community within which children are free to do that. The rest is up to the kids who educate themselves by simply playing with one another. So that's what we do, come together day-after-day in our little town square and that's as complicated as it needs to be.

But that still doesn't mean we're jargon free. We're not even two weeks into the school year and already our own, special jargon is starting to emerge. "Bad guy traps," "jewels," and "poopy butt" are already being used as communication short-cuts that contain more meaning than outsiders can comprehend. It's jargon designed to unify rather than complicate or exclude: it's the kind of jargon of which I fully approve.

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

1 comment:

Roseann Murphy said...

Another "spot on" blog post. Thank you, so much Tom Hobson. I do believe you are in the head of many early childhood educators. Thank you for your candid and humorous posts.