Have you ever thought about the effect your vocabulary has on your perception? The words you use not only define how others see you, but they define how you see the world and yourself in it.
For example, in the classroom context—if I referred to the group I teach as my kids, it connotes a different perceived relationship than if I call them the children. Savvy? “My kids” has a familiar, almost cozy and idealistic flavor, while “the children” puts some emotional distance between us—it’s more formal sounding. And of course, we each have a slightly different connotation of the same words—maybe for you “my kids” sounds too laid-back and unprofessional while “the children” sounds classy and sophisticated. Connotation is the tricky part of communication.
Let’s look at another example. I’ll be honest right up front; I have an issue with the phrase classroom management. My mentor taught me to cringe when I hear it. But the skill of keeping a class on task is indispensable for a teacher, so we have to have a word for that skill. Classroom leadership resonates better with me.
By definition, the words manager and leader are very similar. Manager is defined as “a person who has control or direction of an institution.” Leader is defined as “one who guides or directs.” (Obviously, there are as many definitions as there are people who write dictionaries, but those will suit our purposes for now.) Both definitions use a form of the word “direct.” Both are apt words to describe a teacher. And yet, the words have completely different vibes.
In my connotation, managers are people who are there to make sure you clock in on time, do your work, don’t goof off, etc.—glorified babysitters. I’ve had good managers who really care about my growth as a person and I’ve had grumpy ones who are just there to check the box. To me, a leader is one who sets the example, one who inspires—leaders deserve and command respect because they earn it from each person they lead. You ought to mind your manager because they’ll get you in trouble if you don’t. I definitely want my kids to see me as a leader. So while I’ll still have to apply principles classified as classroom management, conceptualizing my role as the classroom leader improves my attitude about it.
What do you think? What words do you use to talk about teaching? How do they affect your perception? Are there any you’d want to swap out for a more empowering perspective?