Something I said has struck me as, well, uncomfortable. Between John Spencer’s Ditch that Word and The Line, I’ve been thinking about teacherisms I dislike — phrases and words that teachers use all the time, but that students may not really understand. Or, if they hear them, feel a chill in the air every time they’re uttered, and not know why they feel cold and scared.
The phrase “on task” is one of those. I was reading the last post I wrote, and noticed it. It’s what’s called “jargon.” Jargon is special vocabulary or language that is used in specific areas. Others outside that specific area don’t necessarily understand what the words mean, or how to respond to them.
On-task means you are doing your work. It doesn’t mean you like or don’t like the work, it just means you’re activily doing SOMETHING in class that your instructor or teacher has asked you to do.
Now – here’s the issue. It’s my job to help you find why and how to do whatever it is. I have promised you, and I will continue to honor this: whatever we do is going to help you. I can’t guarantee you’ll get a job, or pay your taxes, or stay out of jail, or become president, win a beauty contest, or find true love. But I can promise you that whatever we’re doing is to help you become a better communicator, help you think, and see the world through a myriad of lenses. We have an unspoken contract: I need to be as much “on task” as you — I will write, read, model, show, discuss, question, answer, alongside you.
As this year winds down, many of you were suspended. Your infractions and choices built up like plaque* on teeth, and finally you were drilled out of here. I’m wondering what I’m going to do differently next year, and, quite frankly, how much is in my control. I don’t want you to be lock-step in a line, but I do want a classroom environment where all voices and questions are respected and valued. None of you are missing school because of a direct choice you made in my classroom, but I still feel like I failed you. They were all choices and actions that took place out of the confines of my classroom: did you listen to nothing we talked about? I feel a little defeated–one incident of students influencing other students to cause harm is breaking my heart. Really – you were all so agitated and irritable that you promoted harm to one another.
Did you hear nothing? The world is dangerous and destructive enough. I was trying to shield you, prepare you, provide you with mental resources so you could promote strength and honor. The grown-ups certainly are messing it up.
Once in awhile there was a spark. Once in awhile, a story was told. A poem was written. Or you made eye contact. And I know we’re human.
Editor’ note: I reviewed this post and noticed a misused word, “plague” instead of what I meant, “plaque.” Kind of an important difference, although I’m sure those suffering from the Black Death had plaque, too.