If you work in the medical field, or legal, or auto mechanics, or retail, or wherever, you likely have your own unique vocabulary, a lexicon that means something to you but flies right over an outsider’s head. It’s the same with education. Everyone on the inside eventually slips – sometimes unconsciously – into educational jargon, or education-ese, or edu-speak.
“We will synergize compelling manipulatives through the experiential based learning process.”
As we approach those open house opportunities to meet with our children’s teachers, let’s be willing and ready to ask for translation when the language gets too murky.
When your child’s teacher mentions “shifts,” “SLOs,” “curriculum maps,” “rubrics” and “alignments,” don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask exactly what that means in plain ol’ English.
One definition of jargon is “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.”
Considering that, why do people in so many fields, education especially, insist on using jargon when they communicate with outsiders?
Partly it’s habit. We tend to adopt the phrases we hear most often, and much of this edu-speak was introduced to educators during college coursework, then is reinforced as years go by “in the field.” (See, even we resort to jargon occasionally.)
Teachers can be victims too, constantly adjusting to the new flock of acronyms and terms that appear with every shift in education reform.
There are actually dictionaries published that decipher the code spoken by educators. Thicker glossaries exist for special education terminology, which is constantly evolving, rich with acronyms and laced with sensitively constructed word combinations for disabilities, disorders, medical conditions and the programs that address them.
Specialized professional language isn’t necessarily bad if everyone in the conversation understands it.
But sociologists who study such things claim that professional language is “turf language,” especially when it is used with people outside their circle. Education historian Jeffrey Miriel told the Los Angeles Times that jargon “underscores the message that, ‘I’m a professional, so give me your kid and leave me alone.'”
When it comes to school and our children’s education, should parents ever be made to feel like outsiders? Parents shouldn’t have to work that hard to understand what’s happening in their child’s classroom.
So, how can we break through the wall created by jargon to improve communications between schools and home?
First, politely encourage teachers to develop plain-language ways to describe and talk about the work they do. Parents will probably get more out of “we’re making sure your child has learned what she was taught” than “we’re formatively assessing your child throughout the year.”
When you hear something you don’t understand, ask “What do you mean by that?” Despite the sociologists’ claim, believe that your child’s teachers want to be clear and understandable. They are immersed in this language all day; a gentle reminder that you are not is perfectly OK.
On the other hand, parents could meet their child’s teacher halfway. There are plenty of educational terms that a parent with school-age kids should be familiar with, words such as “research-based,” “at-risk students,” “data-driven instruction,” “assessments” and “Common Core Standards.”
Take the time to understand the big picture of today’s educational process. A basic understanding helps get the conversation started when you sit down with your child’s teachers.
Resources that may help:
- The Glossary of Education Reform
- SchoolWise Press Glossary of Educational Terms
- 21st century skills defined
- Parent Guides to the Common Core Standards
Tom Antis has been a communications specialist with the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service since January 2008. He and his wife, Julie, have two children, ages 10 and 11.