Sunday, November 11, 2012

Word Choice

Besides the usual swears, the words "pig" (as in "you're a pig") and "hate" (as in "I hate you") were considered profanity by my parents (who, by the way, swore - one frequently, the other only occasionally, thereby producing in me a swearer, too). Of course, I'm talking about nearly fifty years ago, when somehow we were collectively more proper and less culturally sensitive all at the same time. Between now and then, our society has become more word-aware, and while some deride the term "political correctness," I believe in it as movement toward thoughtfulness, compassion, and ultimately, equality. I raised my own children to abhor and refrain from using "retarded" and "gay" to signify anything but their literal meanings, and I do not tolerate anyone else (read: students, colleagues, friends) misusing them, either. 

As teachers, our awareness exceeds words like the aforementioned, though. We pick and choose our words in every moment of our professional lives, especially with two specific groups: students and parents. With students, we know our words can help, hurt, mislead, misinform, sway, or encourage. Whether we're complimenting a student on her work or criticizing another's, we must always be thoughtful. With parents, this thoughtfulness is just as, if not more, important. 

We get a student for a year, maybe, if looping is still done, two. Parents have had that child for six, ten,   fifteen years. Seems obvious, but sometimes we talk as if we know a child better than his parents do. I recently advised a colleague who was struggling with some parents that, like customers, parents are always right. They are, and it behooves us to think in this mindset as we work with them. Do we see things the parent might not? Yes. Are we aware of issues that a parent might be ignoring or denying? Of course. Are we experts in our field who can offer strategies and solutions that parents don't know about? Certainly. But conveying all that we know and believe is a game, just as any kind of communication is a game. And our tactics for winning the game must be thoughtfulness and proper word choice. Our words must always reflect our genuine concern; they must be authentic, supportive, and clear. 

Every so often, a list of "Report Card Comments We Wish We Could Use" or some kind of Teacher Jokes list makes the rounds. In the laughs and pointed comments of some teachers we can see real resentment. Some of us simply chuckle. I wish we all found the material offensive, though, because it is. My colleagues might argue that these jokes are a way to ease frustration and to commiserate. Perhaps. But they're still at the expense of our students and parents. And since they're not anything we'd share with either of those groups, I'd suggest that they're not jokes at all.  

Some will call me overly sensitive or politically correct. I'll take either as a compliment, literally

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