Are these the top 10 teaching words of 2020?

Teachers utter thousands of words per day, but Mark Roberts believes these 10 are the key picks of the past 12 months 

Mark Roberts

word of the year

We’ve reached that time when “word of the year” lists start emerging. Compiled by dictionary producers, they irritate pedants, who bemoan racy additions, such as “twerking” and “gaslighting”, to the hallowed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary.  

This year’s buzz word is, inevitably, “lockdown”.

But I think teachers deserve a list of our own. To be frank, we’ve had a pretty rubbish year. So, I’ve compiled a list of the key words that have been leaving our mask-covered mouths in 2020.

1. ‘diversity’ (abstract noun)

Let’s begin with a word unrelated to Covid. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, many schools finally realised that a few half-arsed lessons about racial equality, delivered for just one month in a year, just weren’t good enough.

2. ‘virtual’ (adjective)

Ah, the joy of the virtual lesson: dodgy internet access; homeschooling your kids simultaneously; hardcore porn Zoom-bombing. Calling lessons “virtual” is like saying Croydon “is virtually central London”.

3. ‘laptops’ (noun, plural)

The government promised hundreds of thousands of free laptops for disadvantaged pupils. But six months later, they remained elusive. “Have they come yet?” even overtook “Have you seen my mug?” as the country’s most asked staffroom question.

4. ‘closed’ (adjective)

“Closed” has a very simple definition: “not open”. It’s strange, then, that the government and media didn’t use this adjective accurately during lockdown. Cue thousands of teachers shouting “we’re not bloody closed!” at Radio 4 each morning, as they bolted down their Cornflakes before going to look after vulnerable students, in school.

5. ‘CAG’ (acronym)

Another word much misused by certain politicians. Following the exam fiasco, schools submitted centre-assessed grades, to which teacher predictions contributed. While teachers talked of “CAGs”, politicians preferred “teacher-assessed grades”. After all, why take the flak from unhappy teenagers yourself when you can blame teachers for giving them crap grades?

6. ‘Wilshaw’ (proper noun, profanity)

What with teachers giving students crap grades and having a lazy, lockdown holiday, teacher-bashing became a popular sport on social media. As a result, the names of some publicity-shy commentators entered the rich lexicon of staffroom swearing: “You’re talking absolute Wilshaw!”; “What a total Adonis!”.

7. ‘U-turn’ (noun)

A different type of celebrity – ie, one with actual talent – ensured that free school meals were a hot topic this year.  Like teachers, football star Marcus Rashford thought it might be an idea not to let poor kids starve during a pandemic. Sure enough, an embarrassingly one-sided contest prompted yet another government climbdown.

8. ‘hands!’ (interjection)

Sick of repeating the same instruction to students (stay in your bubble, put on your mask, stop licking each other), teachers relied instead on one-word instructions. This year, tooled-up with gel, wipes and sprays, the word they bellowed most repetitively was undoubtedly “hands!”. 

9. ‘nomadic’ (adjective)

Dragging their wheeled trollies, 2020 saw secondary school teachers thrust out of the nest for the Great Classroom Migration. As they trekked across the inhospitable wilderness of the science corridor, shoe leather disintegrated and step counters malfunctioned.

10. ‘ventilation’ (noun)

Normally a word used in teaching circles only after Year 5 have had baked beans for lunch, but in the brave new world of Covid, “ventilation” has achieved ubiquity. Temperatures dropped and windows were slid high and wide; teachers talked of “ventilation” through blue lips and chattering jaws. Next year’s teaching word of the year? My money’s on “hypothermia”.  

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Mark Roberts

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