Ask any teacher what they teach, and you’ll get the typical responses:
“I teach science.”
“I teach 3rd grade.”
“I teach English.”
Words matter. And when we give those answers, we miss a chance to humanize our classroom every time.
We should always remember that we teach kids. And that matters. Say the first set of answers out loud and then say the next set out loud.
“I teach kids science.”
“I teach 3rd graders.”
“I teach kids English.”
If we around going to create more student-centered schools, then we need to start by actually mentioning the students when we talk about our classes and our profession. Before we expect everyone to be able to do it, perhaps we should actually say it first.
And what is important about this is that it does not suggest that the things we teach the kids are unimportant. Science is important. English is important. 3rd grade is important. But they aren’t necessarily important in their abstraction. They have to be important to the kids we teach. It is in the intersection of the kids we teach and the subjects we teach that meaning and learning happen.
What could happen if teachers started using this language? Could it start us at doing a better job of seeing the kids in front of us as people, not just as students of a subject? Could it remind us that it isn’t enough to love our content, but that we have to love the kids we teach too? Could this be the first step we all agree to take in building human – more humane – schools?
In the end, our kids should never be the implied object of their own education, and we can start changing that with the very language we use to describe what we do.
Hearing this subtle shift years ago from you has changed how I try to address the teachers and admin that I work with on a daily basis. If I ever do have an admin job at a school district I hope to start with modeling good habits that, ‘words matter’ and that I can help teachers with me build a more humane school. This post hits me at a perfect time as a reminder that we all should teach kids before subjects. Thanks for all you do and share.
I am wondering what the answer would be if the question were “what are my students learning?
people get mad at me and look at me funny when i tell them “I teach high school kids. sometimes we do science, sometimes math, sometimes arts and crafts…”