Posted in Blogging, Linguistics

Every Single Thing Wrong With Education: a brief primer

At the start of this semester I was asked, “if you were named Secretary of Education tomorrow, what would you do?” and I accidentally entered a state of paralysis because my answer is simply: everything. As a teacher for the past four years and having worked in education in other capacities for just as long, I’ve collected my list of qualms with education as a whole. I’m writing this as an extension of the answer I gave in class that night, an answer that was by no means holistic or well-thought-out.

This year, working part time has shown me how many issues with teaching could be solved by simply having smaller class sizes or fewer responsibilities as educators. Being able to focus on the smallest number of students allows teachers the opportunity to build positive relationships with each student and notice trends much sooner. We can also solve this problem by incorporating more TAs in the classroom. An aide can help with tasks such as taking attendance, running small pull-out support groups, distributing materials, relieving the teacher in emergencies, an on-site support in case of a substitute, and other tasks that take up space in the primary teacher’s mind on top of content and pedagogy. In some schools, a TA might even be an older student in their final year who is completing an internship of sort and using this a hands-on experience out of genuine desire and interest. This could be another way to further develop community: the desire to become a role model in the classroom might inspire students in ways Pep Rally’s don’t usually. We can also solve this problem by hiring more teachers: raise the status and importance of teaching, reduce the burden of the career, pay educators more, remove the financially burdensome barriers to licensure, and creating more equitable community to classroom pathways.

Grades gotta go. Standards based all the way baby! I’ve taken to writing rubrics at the bottom of all of my formative assessments (classwork, homework, etc) and simply giving students a completion grade. With the pandemic, I’ve done away with late grades entirely. If you turned it in you turned it in. During in-person school years I’ve created separate sections in the gradebook for late vs on-time work. Personally, as a very frazzled individual, I found it hard to keep up with the bean-counting necessary to have accurate submission times recorded for each student. I’d love to read more about where and how we can teach timeliness and keep students fairly in sync while still honoring students personal work styles and giving them the flexibility and guidance to be the best students they can be. Students should be allowed to reassess for things the same way they would likely be given a second chance on their driving tests, most standardized exams, and many realms of life.

More community. Community building is probably at the center of your school’s mission statement or guiding principles or ideologies but what does that look like inside your school’s halls? It’s amazing the type of projects that a cohort based system are able to work on and come up with. If students, baseline, felt more safe and understood within school walls, this nebulous “community” may be easier to come by. Educators, counselors, admin, students, families, everyone needs to believe in the school and in their students/selves. We can build community around the fact that we care about these students and their educations and are doing everything in our power to make sure they’re supported in and through it. Everyone also needs to be educated on how to manage their emotions and express themselves in manners most aligned with their authentic selves. This would allow for positive relationships to flourish and community to be underscored in this setting. I would also like to see schools have more of a symbiotic relationship with the immediate neighborhood, members, and small local businesses.

Food needs to be free for all students point-blank period. Speaking of food, with proper practice with cleaning and being respectful of our spaces, students should be able to eat unobtrusive food freely. Think of the number of times in the day you as an adult, are likely to meander on over to the pantry and graze? So why do we not allow even a crumb of food in the classroom? We should give students the opportunity to practice and model cleanliness if that’s our biggest issue. When people are forbidden from doing something, they do it sneakily. We need to be working with students, considering why and how our long-standing rules are in place, and figuring out the best relational compromises to keep students learning, safe, and healthy. We can spend several minutes of every class reminding students of the “no food” policy or we can accept that bodies operate how they operate and sometimes a lil snack is less distracting than hunger or hunger-induced apathy.

Revaluing of alternate post-secondary paths. Vocational school or going straight to working shouldn’t be taboo! These are all valid, viable, and worthy of support in the same way that college-bound students get supported for their plans. When refocusing on all post-secondary paths rather than just college, we will have to sit back and reevaluate which “core courses” are actually necessary, to what degree, and really understand what we’re asking students to internalize and learn. It would allow more room for non-traditional classes such as Executive Functioning or SEL or Financial Literacy or Sexual Wellness, or Gardening. These courses are likewise able to make a person more well-rounded and I would have found, at minimum, just as useful as Pre-Calculus.

What are some things that grind your gears about K-12 education in the US? Big or little, I’m really curious!

Posted in Linguistics, Writing

Language, Gender, and the Classroom

N.B.: This is an adapted version of a paper I wrote for Applied Linguistics 623: Sociolinguistics Spring 2020 // I would love to hear your thoughts

Sociolinguistics seeks to explore the function of language in a society. As we use oral, written, and non-spoken language at every point of our lives, there are many spaces in which we can examine the linguistics choices we make and why. Language continually shapes how we live and our interpretations of what words and actions mean. Linguistic relativity also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states that a language completely determines a person’s worldview and how a person thinks. Lucy stated that “each language embodies a particular interpretation of reality… which influences thought about that reality” (1997). As a result, with the linguistic diversity that is present in our schools and in the city of Boston, there are so many realities coming to play with every cross-linguistic and even intra-linguistic interaction. 

Personally, my worldview has changed radically from about 10 years ago. I have been forced to examine the ways that I and others use words to unknowingly maintain heteronormative standards. This examination has exposed many ways that we default to words and phrases that are not inclusive of all genders and sexualities. For example, there are many issues with telling students to talk to their “mom and dad” from the assumption that a student lives with both parents, that the student lives with either parent, that the student has a good relationship with said parents, etc. All of these underscore the expectation that the ideal or typical family unit consists of a mother and a father. This has been problematized from a class lens but less frequently from a gender lens.

The most specific way that my change in language use has impacted my habits of thought has to do with the way I refer to people I don’t know: while telling stories in the past, I would say “this girl” or “that guy” and use pronouns that align with their gender presentation and expression (which I now know is not always the same as their gender identity). These days, I make a conscious effort to avoid using gender exclusive language in my speech and, whenever possible, gently correct others who might accidentally do something similar. Even phrases like the New England “y’all” you guys can be unintentionally hurtful to people who are experiencing gender dysphoria even though for others it may not be a big deal. 

Gender inclusivity impacts me in the classroom especially considering I teach Arabic, an incredibly gendered language. There are very few opportunities for breaking out of the male-female dichotomy in Arabic. In English, the word “you” is gender neutral whereas in Arabic, you must gender whomever you speak to both in the pronoun and the verb conjugation. This becomes particularly tricky in that there are no collective, standardized ideas on how to work around this. 

On a larger scale, I work in an arts school and as a community, there is a high percentage of students who identify as trans and/or queer and who are free with regards to their gender expression and presentation. It is of utmost importance that we are conscious of the effects that our language use has in setting the culture of acceptance and inclusivity. Sexualities outside of the standard have already been so normalized within our community and even moreso with this generation of students. Our students are moving away from heteronormativity especially with more public figures and celebrities being more open about their sexualities and gender identities. 


If I were speaking to parents and educators in my school community to address gender and LGBTQ+ inclusivity, I would explain the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis but also address that I, personally, accept a less rigid interpretation of it: language shapes our ideas as well as perpetuates ideas of language but we do have the ability to change and learn and internalize new ideologies. That’s what makes our work around gender even more important. While using the singular “they” may have been challenging for me at first, it becomes second nature almost instantaneously. It is almost standard practice now to include your pronouns in your email signature when just five years ago that would have raised many eyebrows outside of the queer feminist circles. 

Pauwels said, “taking linguistic action to improve the plight of women was seen as an integral part of women’s liberation” and while I don’t agree wholly agree with this belief, I do think that linguistic action does impact visibility and causes people to consider why they make the linguistic choices they do and where those ideas come from (2002). This could be incredibly important when it comes to changing our internal dialogues and ideologies around gender and sexuality. In learning more about the expansive terminology at our disposal and what words mean, we can make choices about how we want to move forward with our language use.

It is important to include actual queer representation as a starting point. This way, we can critically consider ways to decenter the normative social discourses. Moving forward, we can find ways to represent the even more marginalized LGBT identities (i.e. queer people of color, disabled queer people, “non-passing” trans people). But for now, it’s most important to raise our collective awareness, alter our daily speech to be more inclusive, and honor and value the pronouns of the people in our lives regardless about how we feel about the person. For example, misgendering someone when you’re upset with them or they have done something to hurt you is not acceptable, regardless of the circumstances. 

So much of education, or at least my experience as an educator of a language for which I’m not a native speaker, has been me situating myself as a non expert of the material or topic. For non-queer educators and parents, we should do this as well. 

This movement towards inclusive language should not be sensationalized or happen just during Pride Month: it should be a habitual practice! We should not be afraid to problematize the dominant discourses that are present in our textbooks and articles and academic resources. Our students are wise enough to challenge the materials and discuss how they marginalize and silence the real, lived experiences of people in their classrooms, in their lives, and in the world. Ultimately this shift is not about changing minds or hearts or opinions on queerness or sexuality, but rather an attempt to move the needle on our perception and acceptance of those ideas. We are trying to budge our cultural habits of thought by intentionally engaging in a slightly different habit and discovering why we do so. 

Pauwels discusses how feminist movements in the 1970s focused on the “male dominance in language regulation and planning” and their overwhelming attempts to subvert English’s inherent androcentrism (2002). 50 years has passed since then and while there are still issues in the way that our language use still points to a male-dominated society, we need to be expanding our focus beyond the gender binary. Using the impact that feminist linguistic activism has had on our use of language can be great inspiration for this new wave of linguistic activism and maybe, just maybe, in 2070 the next generation will have normalised a more gender-expansive English, a queer-accepting curriculum, and a trans-inclusive understanding of society. 



Deborah Cameron Styling the worker: Gender and the commodification of language in the globalized service economy Journal of Sociolinguistics 4/3, 2000: Institute of Education, London 323-347

Pauwels, Anne (2002) Linguistic Sexism and Feminist Linguistic Activism