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Semantics in Education: People Are Very Attached to Their Titles

As a blogger, it is always challenging to put oneself out there, but we do it to share our ideas and hopefully make people think, challenge beliefs, or connect with our readers.

That being said, sometimes when I write a piece, I'm certain of the way it will be received and I write confidently and am excited to share it with the world.

There are other times, however, I write a piece and I'm not sure at all how it will be received, but I'm writing for me, and the outcome, although less certain, is also less


The third option is when you think it will be received one way and the opposite happens for reasons that couldn't have been foreseen. These are often the most challenging to cope with as the message can get lost and a whole new entity is established.

In tribute to Teacher Appreciation Week, I wrote a piece called Teachers vs Educators: Which are you? intended to honor the educators from my past who have made a lasting impact on the person I am today. I prefaced this piece by talking about a brilliant student TedxTalk which discussed the difference between teachers and educators.

Needless to say, the response to this piece was nothing like I had imagined.

Rather than celebrating the people in the post or sharing others who have made the same kind of impact in other educators' lives, readers overwhelmingly got caught up in the semantics of the words "teacher" and "educator" and the connotative value of each.

Comments went on rants ranging from a comparison of titles like "garbage man or sanitation engineer" to a strong dislike for the line that I drew about the distinction between the two. The comments can be read here.

What we say and how we say it despite how we mean it, really does affect those we are around. My intention in the post wasn't to offend, but it seems that's what I did. What I realized is that something much deeper happened as there is an emotional connection to these words and what they mean to us, rather than the sentiments behind my post.

Education, as well as other polarizing professions, has a way of assigning value to semantics in a very personal way and with any kind of discussion of reform or talk of these semantics, the emotional response ends up being more important than the conversation at hand. This has always been true of my feelings about grading and the opposing viewpoints on the more traditional side.

For me, the article wasn't about the exact word a person uses to describe the difference between a person who teaches and a person who makes teaching their life calling, but rather the fact that there is a difference. Some of the comments did touch on this as they agreed that some folks who teach, may know their content but don't go the distance in regards to developing relationships, making learning interesting, or making it a point to inspire the students they work with.

Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, there are many teachers in our profession who don't love what they do, who may currently be uninspired or probably shouldn't teach at all, but still do because it is convenient and stable. This is not a popular thing to admit openly, but it is a truth nonetheless. All of us at some time or another have been taught by one of these people or have worked with one.

In the same regard, hopefully, every student has experienced a person on the other end of the spectrum who truly has made a difference for one reason or another and can see the contrast in these experiences.

What we call either of these people seems less relevant to me, but acknowledging there is a difference and then minimizing the disparity between the two seems most urgent.

Although we may not be able to make every teacher one of the favorites among students, we can certainly help each other make school a place students want to be; it's all a matter of perspective.

Educators or teachers, those of us who take the time to know the people we spend time with, and make the learning about them and not the content, those are the ones who get remembered overwhelmingly. So when we see our colleagues struggling or we hear students speaking negatively about other colleagues, we must seek to help rather than engage in the conversation.

Try opening up your classroom to other teachers. Get connected on social media. Take risks to find the passion that made you want to teach to begin with. This is what's in everyone's best interest. This is how our profession will start to thrive again.

What can you do today to help elevate the quality of teaching in your classroom or school for kids? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in May of 2016


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