Education Speak

Over the summer I was reading a number of books that will undoubtedly come back to haunt me next semester when I’m trying to muddle through all my College of Education requirements at NAU. One was Begin Here by Jacques Barzun, and another was Less Than Words Can Say by Richard Mitchell, calling himself “The Underground Grammarian.” I was reminded a bit of the latter when reading through the student teaching application form a couple of days ago, and came upon these questions:

  • Clearly document your need to go out-of-state
  • Describe your role as a future teacher.
  • Describe your classroom management plan.
  • Describe how to build a satisfying and productive relationship within the learning community.

So, what’s wrong with them? Nothing in any real sense; they ask fairly common questions of a sort we have been trained to understand and answer intelligently throughout our studies in education. And yet there is a problem here. The problem is that it is necessary for one who has a good grasp of English, but very little of the rather heavily modified talk of Education to first translate the questions into standard English, write a response, and then translate that response back into English. This procedure makes quite a lot of sense when the uninitiated are talking about technical and scientific matters, or trying to write in a foreign language, but it’s mostly just a waste of thought and time to do so when speaking of ordinary things in ordinary life, for which there are already ways of talking that say the same thing, not only just as well, but often even better.

It goes a bit like this:

Clearly document your need to go out-of-state

I don’t need to go out of state. I certainly can’t document that non-need. What kinds of documents could anyone come up with to prove they need to teach out of state? Perhaps they have an ailing grandmother in Wyoming whom they must care for, or she’ll die? Or they must move to Seattle to live with their sister because they have no money, and can’t work and teach at the same time? Maybe it really means:

Clearly document that it would be beneficial for you to go out-of-state

Again, what kind of documentation? Perhaps it is really:

Clearly explain why it would be beneficial for you to go out-of-state

Ah! I can do that! And so I begin writing my letter.

Or, as another example:

Describe how to build a satisfying and productive relationship within the learning community.

I don’t even know where to start, so I ask my father, who is a teacher. He says: “satisfying relationship–means you don’t bitch and complain and whine as so many teachers—and people in general actually, but especially teachers–do….that is my guess and I am sticking with it”

Ok, I reason, so it wants to know that I would be “professional.” That I would cooperate with other teachers, talk to them about subjects of mutual interest, be cordial, helpful, give and ask help or advice, and that sort of thing. I remember from past experience that a “learning community” in this context really means a school. So, they want to know something like:

Describe how you would contribute to the positive interaction between those in the school

My, that’s clumsy! And it’s still passive, which many respected people say to avoid in this kind of situation.

How about the old fashioned:

How would you contribute to useful interaction among those in the school?

I’m still not sure if that’s anything like what they meant, but it has to be close enough, because it’s the only one I can answer coherently. The answer is something like this:

“By trying to be kind, thoughtful, and friendly.” Now I get to begin translating it back.

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