Saturday, May 17, 2008

Semantics of Staff Development

Having just caught up (whew!) with my backed up GoogleReader feeds, I saw a couple of postings that grabbed my attention about the term "teacher" and its negative connotations. One was from Ewan McIntosh (Does the word "teacher" create a barrier these days?) and one was from David Warlick (Telling a New Story). Here's a quick quotation from Ewan's post followed by a quotation from Warlick's:
"As adults we rarely refer to those who teach us how to work better as 'teacher'. We've invented a plethora of other words to avoid this: coach, mentor, facilitator..."

"I would suggest that this is too easy. Language is useful. It helps us to form images, and sometimes, new images. But the word, teacher, is not the problem."

This discussion got me thinking about the terms that we use as coaches, mentors, facilitators, etc.

CC Image by jovike

How many of us are calling summer sessions "camp" instead of "summer school for teachers"? That's really what it is, but "camp" is much more appealing, isn't it? How about "workshop" vs. "training"? Isn't "workshop" more positively perceived than "training session"? I've even seen recent events billed as a "summit" rather than "conference" or "study group" rather than "class."

With respect, I have to disagree with Warlick when he says that "the word, teacher, is not the problem." Warlick suggests that we need to "retell" the story of teaching; I like his idea, but I'm afraid that there are some terms too mired in tradition to allow for retelling. In situations where we have to positively sell what we do and create buy-in, language is everything. It's why we have to create a "plethora of new words" and find creative ways to describe learning and teaching.

Maybe if we begin calling ourselves by a name other than "teacher," we might begin to break away from outdated pedagogies & embrace learning in new ways. And, just maybe, it will break down the barrier of negative perception. Like it or not, that's the power of semantics.