The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Like Hearing a Foreign Language

Every profession in the world, I think, has its own special language, or at least its own special vocabulary. There are terms, phrases, abbreviations, acronyms, and verbal shorthand that gets thrown around like crazy. The military is especially well-known for this. I remember when one of my older brothers was overseas in Iraq, he sent the family an email to explain what he was doing, using as much military jargon as possible. This is what he sent us:

I live in G-block LSA, Camp Slayer, Iraq. Each day, I get up at about 1855D, put on my DCUs, and foot if over to the D-FAC. From there, I head over to the palace where I work. Although I am USAF, I don’t work for CENTAF, but instead work for MNF-I under CENTCOM. I work in MNF-I C2 CM&D ISR Ops. We handle the scheduling of Corps FMV assets when the various MSC’s request EAD support. MNF-I also is in command of MNC-I which includes V Corps, 1MEF, 101ABN, 4ID, and MND-SE. Much of my night is spent on SIPRNET or JWICS contacting customers and dealing w/ their Ad Hoc requests via our S/VOIP, TS/VOIP, DSN STE, or email. We also monitor ongoing activity via MIRC and VBrick. I am the night shift OIC for both ISR Ops and CM&D. I have an AF (M)Sgt and USN IS1 who work w/ me and a USA SFC who comes in during the last part of my shift. I worked with our Section OIC (who is an O-3) at GAFB while attending IROC. We often have to work out issues between the MSCs and the C2 Ops Desk; who then coordinates with CHOPS and the J3. When planning a mission, I have to consider the flying times of the acft, sens-capes, alt and airspeed, and priorities. We have to work with the various platform LNOs, DGSs, ISARC, CAOC ISRD, and determine the availability of organic assets at each of the MSCs. 

There are times that I think the education field is just as confusing, and I have been trained in it. Admittedly, there aren’t many times when I have to admit having no idea what someone is talking about, but it has happened once this year, when I was at the PBIS Winter Conference back in January. (A presenter in a break-out session asked me about my school’s T-chart and I had to admit that I had no idea what that was. He quickly explained, but it was still an awkward moment for me!) As one educated in, well, education, I understand what is being said.

But what about my students? How many of them understand what we, as teachers, mean, especially when we discuss expectations? How many of them really don’t even know what the word expectations means, anyway? This has been bubbling inside my head for quite some time, and came to the forefront recently when my awesome grade-level partner shared some recent research with me that revealed that humans are born with six basic emotions, and all others are learned. The six basic emotions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. Young people come to us with far fewer social-emotional coping skills than we often imagine. In addition, they often come to us with a completely different set of skills than we recognise as being “best” or “most desirable.” So is it any surprise that so many students struggle to navigate their way through the expectations of a public school setting?

My colleagues and I have discussed this numerous times. As one example, school-life and home-life are often considerably different. In my childhood home, and in my wife’s childhood home, dinnertime conversation consisted of many people talking to many people at all times. There was no raising your hand and waiting for Mum or Dad to call on you. In fact, I remember a time growing up where either my younger sister or I did raise a hand to get attention and the family joked about it, saying, “You don’t have to raise your hand; you’re not at school!” And yet students get to school and hear repeatedly that it is verboten to speak without being called upon. The difference is so stark that we may as well be speaking a foreign language!

And for my new students, as well as for students who have a new teacher–and yes, I realise that this includes all of my students–I think that I may as well speak a foreign language if I’m not going to take the time to introduce them to our school language. Of course, I do this quite often. We regularly review what expectations are, what the expectations specifically are, and how we can meet them. But just as one semester or one year of a foreign language isn’t enough to make one a fluent speaker, so, too, is a year or two of school enough for a student to be fluent in the language of education. I decided to illustrate this point with my class this afternoon, and will follow it up with another similar illustration tomorrow.

I have been known, on many occasions, to lapse into German phrases when talking to my students. If I direct everyone to return to their seats and then I have several who have not done so, my class is used to hearing me call out, “Jungen und Mädchen, sitzen in deinen Stuhlen, bitte!” (It may not be the most accurate translation of the directions I am giving, but my few years of German make me believe it is close enough for my purpose.) Oddly, this usually catches everyone attention and they all promptly sit in their seats and ask me to explain what I just said. I’ve never actually translated it for them until today, though. And instead of translating it, I guided them into figuring out the translation on their own.

I am going to start tomorrow morning off with German and use it as a springboard for a discussion about how we, as a class community, can help one another learn our classroom language in order to create a better, safer, and more pleasant learning environment as we make the mad dash to the end of the year. I think it will be a successful discussion. At least, I hope it will be.

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One response

  1. Will Reger

    Use Ihren rather than deinen for the plural, even when speaking informally to young folk. You could also use the verb sich hinsitzen, to sit down, e.g. “Sitzen Sie sich hin!”

    April 20, 2012 at 9:19 pm

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