Why I’m wary of uttering the word ‘pedagogy’

Kirsty Crommie wonders if teachers should take more risks with language – just like they encourage children to do

Why I’m wary of uttering the word ‘pedagogy’

Perhaps we should not be so negative and scared of that which we do not know. We expect our pupils to try and sound out tricky or unfamiliar words, to look up unknown words in a dictionary or ask a friend. We help children to develop their knowledge of words and actively encourage them to show off what they know by using ambitious vocabulary in their writing and talking. Maybe, as adults, we should be following their lead and trying to use the words that scare us a bit more, without worrying about getting it wrong.

The other day as I was scrolling through Twitter I came across the word “hubris”. Now, I consider myself to be a fairly educated and well-read professional individual. Working in education means that I place a lot of value on communication and the development and promotion of vocabulary. But as I looked at the word “hubris”, I realised that not only did I not know what it meant, I also had no idea how to pronounce it – hoobree, hoobris, huhbree? I didn’t have a clue.

Which got me thinking. As much as I like to imagine myself as a knowledgeable person there are still a whole host of words that I come across that I just don’t understand or know how to pronounce and, as such, I never dare to use them. I suspect I am not alone.

A number of years ago I used the word “irreverent” in a university essay, thinking it made me sound awfully clever. It was only when I came across said essay a number of years later that I realised that I had used it in completely the wrong context, that it made no sense whatsoever. I still avoid using that word for fear of getting it wrong.


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“Disingenuous” is another one that flummoxes me. I think it is a lovely word to say – it flows off the tongue beautifully – but would I feel confident using it in a sentence? No, not really.

But it’s not just words that we don’t understand that make us reluctant to use them.  “Ubiquitous” is a cracker of a word but I can't be the only one who struggles with how to pronounce it.

It sometimes seems, however, that nowhere has its share of complicated and unpronounceable words to make us feel inadequate than in education.

One such word that crops up time and time again is “pedagogy”, a fancy word which simply means “the study of the methods and activities of teaching”. (So says the Cambridge Dictionary.)

Having finally got to grips with what it actually means, I still dislike the word. Why? I’m not really sure. Perhaps because it seems a bit highbrow, a bit show-offy? Or perhaps it’s because whenever I try to say it I always sound ridiculous. I can never seem to put the emphasis in the correct place and it always sounds clunky and wrong. Pedagogy is a word that I have convinced myself I can never pull off.

It’s not just words we have to contend with in education. There is a staggering amount of acronyms and shorthand codes that, as teachers, we need to try and remember. In Scotland, we’ve got Girfec, Sip, Shanarri, SNSA, CEM, RACI, CfE, LIs, SC, Es and Os and Hgios, to name but a few. It’s no wonder we sometimes feel a little befuddled.

On the subject of acronyms, whatever happened to Walt (We are learning to), Wilf (What I'm looking for) and their less popular wee pal, TIB (This is because)? When I returned to teaching after taking a career break, our wee friends had disappeared without a trace, never to be spoken of again. I haven’t had the courage to ask what happened to them in case they met with some tragic end that nobody likes to talk about.

Perhaps we should not be so negative and scared of that which we do not know. We expect our pupils to try and sound out tricky or unfamiliar words, to look up unknown words in a dictionary or ask a friend. We help children to develop their knowledge of words and actively encourage them to show off what they know by using ambitious vocabulary in their writing and talking. Maybe, as adults, we should be following their lead and trying to use the words that scare us a bit more, without worrying about getting it wrong.

After all, words are beautiful things which allow us to effectively communicate and express ourselves. Should we not embrace and love each and every one? Even, dare I say it, "pedagogy"?

Kirsty Crommie is a primary teacher, children's book blogger and a student at the University of Stirling, where she is doing a part-time master's degree in professional education and leadership. She tweets @KCrommie

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