Speaking School: It’s Like Learning Another Language

yada-yada-1430679_1920.jpgOfsted have an unerring knack of making us feel inadequate. My introduction to this came earlier than most. It came before I was a teacher. Before I’d even thought about becoming a teacher.

Fresh out of university, it turned out I didn’t have the world at my feet. Instead, to supplement my limited workplace experience of checkout scanning and pint-pulling, I registered with a temping agency who sent me on a number of instructive assignments. The first was performing admin duties at the Serious Fraud Office where, perhaps unsurprisingly, temp staff weren’t included in briefings. Next came a stint at the National Deaf Children’s Society, where meetings were highly informal affairs accompanied by cake and BSL (British Sign Language). Then came Ofsted and the mind-bending explosion of jargon.

Strolling through the imposing glass facade of their Kingsway office, I felt quite at ease, a relaxedness that survived a morning mastering the filing system but which dissipated during the midday staff briefing. Ushered into a large conference room with the rest of the HR department, I naively thought, based on my prior sugary-sweet experience, ‘Ooh, I like meetings’.

Then the talking started.

I can’t recall anything of what was actually said in the next thirty minutes. Asking me to repeat it would be a bit like sending a C-grade French GCSE student into a busy Parisian office and expecting them to report back with any degree of accuracy. It might have been something to do with ‘dimensions of learning’ that first threw me. It might have been the ‘IDEA’. Or it could have been ‘broadbanding’. Faced with a perfect storm of teaching, business and technological terminology, my mind ruptured. What I do recall, distinctly, is feeling stupid. Our education system had hitherto assured me I was pretty intelligent; I was armed with an English degree and considered myself a decent communicator, yet the noises reverberating around that conference room had been largely indecipherable.

We’re often quick to chastise children for their own use of non-standard English, be it txt-talk acronyms such as ‘OMG’ or terms of endearment such as ‘blud’. Meanwhile, we tend to ignore the fact that we have our own vernacular that might sound foreign to them, be it AQA, BSPs or CPD! Using subject-specific terminology is a regular AO and we get frustrated when pupils fail to remember the argot they’ve been taught. But what we need to remember is that secondary school pupils are trying to learn several new languages at once. Sometimes they probably look at their teachers and think we’re talking in tongues.

Harking back to my formative Ofsted experience reminds me what it’s like getting to grips with a strange and unfamiliar language. Given enough time I became fluent in school speak but there’s always new buzzwords invented to befuddle the uninitiated. My advice to teachers everywhere: recall a time when you too were left bamboozled by terminology so that you might have more empathy and patience with pupils who are linguistically challenged. And now I’ve shared that, I’ll STFU.

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