Educational Jargon

Every profession develops its own vocabulary, and new teachers quickly come to realize that education is no exception. I can remember even during my education classes at UCSB that there were several student teachers who delighted in this educational jargon. One student teacher in particular seemed incapable of completing a thought without trying to impress us with his favorite word – metacognition. At first I considered this professional vocabulary to be humorous and harmless. Over the years I have continued to be humored by the many additions to the lexicon of educationally impressive phrases, buy I no longer consider the jargon completely harmless.

What harm can there be in the use of educational jargon? Well, anyone who has ever received a medical diagnosis from a doctor who insists on presenting simple concepts in complex verbiage knows that the way in which information is presented can be powerful. As educators, it is important to remember that our partners are parents and students. Jargon tells our partners that “You are not one of us.”

It has been my observation that the farther one moves away from direct contact with students within an educational organization, the more likely it becomes that you will find those professionals most steeped in the current jargon. Put another way, I rarely hear the “latest” jargon from my teaching peers at my high school. I don’t often hear it from administrators at my school site. On those many occasions when I have attended staff development at the district office, I often add to my collection of jargon. At times it seems that those folks who no longer work directly with students and parents have acquired an entirely new language.

Years ago I began “collecting” some of these terms and adding them to my “Educational Jargon Generator.” Sometimes, the only way to maintain your mental health is to maintain a sense of humor. One of my recent favorites is the word “agendize,” which I first heard at my district office. Perhaps it was the widespread reference to terrorists who might “weaponize” anthrax that started this trend. In short, you take a noun, add “-ize” and suddenly you’ve invented a verb!

New teachers – remember that it is your job to take sometimes complex concepts and distill them in such as way as to make them understandable to your students. Too often, we “jargonize” (see how easy that is!) and do the opposite. We take simple concepts and make them seem complex by draping them in the lingo of our profession.

Veteran teachers – if you have some favorites that you have collected in “professional development” and don’t see them within my  Educational Jargon Generator then by all means, please share them with me by email.

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Andy Allan

I am the owner-developer of Sciencegeek.net and a science teacher at El Diamante High School in Visalia, CA.