Things I Know 123 of 365: I teach students who learn

By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.

– George Carlin

A friend recently told me about another teacher who was explaining the merits of her school and listed among them the fact that the faculty referred to the children in their care as “learners” rather than students. The implication was that such a shift in language meant the students were learning more now that they’d a clearer idea of their role in the building.

Thank goodness we’ve got that cleared up.

I like student and its history. Sure, a student is one who studies. The real fun comes from the etymology of study. Traced back, it finds its roots in the Latin studere meaning “to be diligent.”

I want that for those in my classroom.

I’m a fan of learner as well. Coming from learn, it finds its home in the Proto-Germanic liznojan meaning “to follow or find the track.”

I want that for those in my classroom as well.

To help them be both diligent and follow the track, I’ve drafted a schedule. Mondays and Wednesdays, I’ll use “learner when referring to my kids. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ll call them students.

Fridays will alternate. E-mails and other correspondences will adhere to the schedule depending on the date they were first drafted.

I’m sure that will improve the learning (and studying).


Maybe it doesn’t matter what I call my kids.

Or, it matters, but not quite as much as how and why I teach them.

I can see the draw of shifting the language of the classroom to learner. It provides modern window dressing to teaching. When the roof’s leaking, though, I’m not so certain how much time we have to admire the curtains.

I’ll put it in the same category as claims of wanting to good for children and reform education, but making no mention of pedagogy.

From time to time, I will call my students “writers,” “readers,” or “thinkers.” Sometimes, I’ll refer to them as all three in quick succession.

On particularly boisterous mornings, I will refer to them as “beautiful people.”

I’ve even been known to refer to a mass of 33 high school students as “hey.”

While I understand a close reading of any of my classroom rhetoric could produce some interesting theses as to my relationship with my kids, it won’t get you to an understanding of my pedagogy.

This was my worry as my friend told the story of the faculty and its learners. It is a gesture, and gestures can be funny things. Magicians will use gestures to divert your attention from what they’re really doing, and docents will use gestures to help guide you on the correct path.

I’ve no room for more educational magicians.

I’m all for those who are diligently helping our students learn.

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