Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jason and the Jargonauts

This week and last, I and my cohorts have been involved in a rigorous and exhausting teacher training "boot camp." For now, let's leave aside my own frustrations (i.e. it is entirely impossible to learn theories of teaching without practice, and it is impossible to practice without students, and it is impossible to practice *on* students during the summer when they are all enjoying their last vacation days).

I know a lot of teachers. A lot. Including people whose job descriptions never seemed to indicate any teaching component. I understand the need for specialized language in different disciplines (e.g. it is impossible to talk about mathematics without "algebra," "calculus," "quotient," and the like). But there's a certain painful confusion amongst teachers when the conversation turns to The Language of Teaching.

Do you call it: (a) syllabus, (b) curriculum, (c) course plan, (d) course description, (e) semester plan, (f)... you get the point.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. It doesn't even deal with uncertainty *within* a given discipline: for Freshman Composition, do you call it "exposition," "argumentation," "claim-making," "position-staking," "debate"? Do you hand out "assignments," "prompts," "topics," "drills," "essay questions"? Grading scale? Rubric? Scoring chart? Conference? Discussion? Office meeting?

I've seen organization, arrangement, "flow," paragraphing, construction, control; thesis, claim, position; cogency, originality, rigor, innovation, invention; support, evidence, examples, outside source, quotation; style, diction, tone, word choice, vocabulary, fluency... the lists suffer constant growth (expansion, accretion, lengthening...).

This is not to be confused with academic tendencies to create b.s. words that mean what they sound like they say (incorporealness?). That's a different beast and blog post altogether.

Why, save my soul, do institutions not normalize a language of teaching?

A provisional answer: 'We're a unique institution. Nobody does it quite like us.' Translation: 'We figured out the RIGHT WAY to do things! U-S-A! U-S-A!'


  1. Haha. Love this. At least I'm not the only one who gets frustrated at these ridiculous teaching training things.

  2. Hm. Believe it or not, this is at least as big a problem in ministry circles. Words like 'Gospel', 'justice', 'truth', even 'love' have many meanings to many persons/church cultures.

    How would you even go about beginning to standardize? Wouldn't we have to nationalize an educational philosophy?

    Give me some action steps. Tell me what to call stuff and I'll call it that. :D

  3. To eighteenthcfreak: Good luck next year, then, because wow.

    To somethingisawtoday: Standardizing concepts like "truth" or "love" seems decidedly more complicated. I have a weird stereotype that those words have more abstraction to them, but when I think of "thesis," it isn't exactly something concrete and easily defined.