At church the other day the pastor was talking about the story of the tower of Babel from the book of Genesis. If you’re not familiar with the story a quick rundown is in the beginning everybody spoke the same language. They wanted to build a tower to the heavens. God disapproved and scattered everyone across the world and after that they spoke in different languages.
It’s a very simplified version of the story but it really got me thinking about the language of my kids. I teach 6th graders and every day I walk into the classroom and start talking. I give instructions for activities. I read texts to the kids. I present them with new information. I give them detailed instructions on what I want them to do, how I want them to do it, and when I want them to do it. And inevitably there will be a kid who raises his hand and says “Mr. Stock, what are we supposed to do?”
Sometimes I think I’m being clear with my instructions, but I’ve been thinking a lot about my approach to teaching. I teach things from the language of an English teacher. I’ve gone through 21 years of schooling. I’ve been trained in analyzing language and text. I know the academic vocabulary and the nuances of language necessary to survive semesters of Shakespeare and an entire class dedicated to the History of the English Language. I know things I will never use like what a fricative is and a glottal stop. Some of you are nerds like me and either know what I’m talking about or looked both of those up.
I don’t speak the same language as my kids. They speak the language of Snapchat and Instagram, Fortnight and Vines. They speak the language of an adolescent who hasn’t experienced the world the way I have and hasn’t seen the same things I have.
Therefore, one of my goals this year is to do a better job of translating my teaching into something that is meaningful and understandable to them. I don’t intend to dumb down my vocabulary, but I need to do a better job of seeing things through the eyes of a middle school student, to get the linguistic lens through which they are interpreting what I’m teaching.