Decoding teacher-speak - FamilyEducation

Decoding teacher-speak

February 08,2008

I have a stack of papers to grade this weekend. A large stack. The challenge with grading student writing is, as usual, coming up with just the right words to both encourage the writer to do better but, at the same time, convey my dismay (despair) over the lack of effort put into the assignment. In procrastination mode this afternoon, I'm thinking instead about how much I like to volunteer at my son’s school (they have a very generous open-door policy), and whether or not I can fit in an hour or two there next week.

Each time I set foot in L.'s classroom I learn something from the teachers. I love them. I am often in awe of them. They are not only leaders in the field of multi-tasking, but darn good educators at the same time. They are filled with endless techniques for both stimulating and containing the children and they whip out these bags of tricks with unwavering zeal. One thing I have noticed recently is how elementary school teachers seem to have code words for almost everything--a type of teacher-speak. This probably saves them having to incessantly spell out everything over and over and over again--something I find myself doing day after day. Here's a sampling:

--there are no bad behaviors, only bad choices. L.'s teachers need only tell any given student that he/she has made a bad choice and they seem instantly cowed. There is no need for the lengthy after-class discussions I engage in with my college students, while anxiously trying to pack up my bags and head to my next class, just so I can repeat the scenario all over again.

--listening bodies is another term used to describe the ideal state of being during learning time. Legs criss-crossed, hands folded in lap, mouths closed. L.'s teachers have only to mouth the words to the students and they assume the pose. If they don't, see below.

--Strategic use of the expression Oh no! as an umbrella expression to cover a whole range of bad choices.  L.’s teacher has mastered this. She can whip out an Oh no! that will stop even an adult in their tracks.  If a child is misbehaving in any way Ms. S. clasps her hand to her heart, in mock heart-attack mode.  Her jaw drops and her eyes grow wide with horror and despair.  Oh noooooooo! She’ll say in long, drawn-out tones, fixing the misbehaving child with a shocked gaze.  Oh no! And then, just like that—no need for lengthy discussion—the child instantly stops what he or she is doing and, miracle of miracles, makes the right choice!

--when your card gets pulled during center time you don't get to pick which activity you want, you--oh horror of horrors, have the activity picked for you. So the teacher's threats sound like this: "Anthony, do I need to pull your card? Then they might make the hand motions for listening bodies and Anthony quickly complies.

...and my favorite elementary school code word: scribble-scrabble. I love this expression. The teachers use this as a blanket term to describe any work the student is doing which is, quite frankly, just not the student's best effort. And this has nothing to do with ability. A student is committing scribble-scrabble if they aren't following directions, or purposefully being messy and careless, or just not even trying. When I was in L.'s class recently the students were receiving instructions on how to write out a thank-you card to the parents who had participated in a recent fundraiser.

L.'s teacher:  And do you think the moms and dads want to get a bunch of cards with scribble-scrabble on them?

As she says the words 'scribble-scrabble' she makes a yucky face.The students shake their heads too. No scribble-scrabble. Of course not! Yuck. They are transfixed by her instructions, soaking in every word. They bend their heads over their carefully folder papers and, tongues poking out slightly from between their lips, they carefully do their best not to commit this cardinal sin.

I am so envious of the rapt attention the students give their teacher. Oh to hold an audience so riveted! But more than that, I am just struck dumb by the term scribble-scrabble. How brilliant! I see quite a bit of scribble-scrabble in my job and up until now have never come up with just the right term to describe careless, messy, and basically sub-par student writing. I have something new now I can write at the bottom of student papers. Forget about professor-speak and empty verbiage. I'll simply pen the words scribble-scrabble in my red felt-tip marker at the top of the page and leave it at that.