* Why Acronyms In Teaching?
In my first year as a secondary school teacher, there was something called AR&R. The school had a deputy head teacher responsible for AR&R. It was the phrase on everyone’s lips. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea what AR&R meant. Not wishing to look stupid, I spent several months in blissful ignorance of what AR&R was, before I plucked up the courage to ask. (Assessment, Recording and Reporting, since you ask.) The world of education is extremely keen on acronyms. Overly keen, some might say. As with so many other aspects of teaching, we go through phases in our love affair with acronyms. Just now, we’re passing through an especially acronym-heavy phase. Often, acronyms stay in fashion for 3 years or so, then get discarded, to be replaced by an entirely different set of letters. But other acronyms limp on for years, acquiring extra letters until they seem sure to collapse under the weight of our expectations. I do feel rather sorry for the originally succinct PSE, which attracts new letters of the alphabet as though it were magnetic.
The Benefits of Acronyms In Teaching (or, BAIT)
* Saving time: Given that we spend so much time agonising over what the Office for Standards in Education do/want/say/mean, the acronym OFSTED saves us literally weeks in time each year.
* Saving space, saving face: When we use social media (especially Twitter) we need to condense what we want to say to fit it in. We might want to use an expression that we don’t like ‘saying’ out loud. FFS being a prime example.
* Selling an idea: An acronym can make something fairly mundane sound cool, modern and important. As teachers, we sound more professional if we can reel off a few acronyms that are peculiar to us. Selling an idea by using an acronym can make sense when it’s about persuading the kids (DIRT, DEAR, FAIL). Although a word to the wise: the novelty has a habit of wearing off quickly.
The Dangers of Acronyms In Teaching (or, DAIT)
* Selling an idea: an acronym can give an idea more weight or importance than it might perhaps merit. Maybe we’re tempted to chuck in an extra word to make our acronym sound really special. Yes, it’s useful for people to look at teachers when they are talking, but do they really have to nod as well? What if they don’t agree with what you’re saying?
* Brain parking: When an acronym becomes a system that everyone is asked to adopt, this may result in us parking our brains at the door. APP, VAK, AFL, NLP, SMART, SLANT. We know what the letters stand for, but we risk not thinking about what the terms mean. Acronyms can encourage us to take ideas on board wholesale, without questioning whether they really work for us and our children.
* Speaking in code: For those new to the profession, acronyms are baffling, they can alienate the very people who most need to access what we mean. Acronyms also risk keeping parents a step removed from their children’s education.
* Missing the big picture: When I read a phrase such as “the % of FSM with SEND” I give a little shudder. I feel like I need a sticker saying “A child who just happens to have …” so I can go around sticking it on DfE documents, and school policies, and anywhere else that the word ‘child’ has gone missing. There is a very real danger that the way we think about children is altered by our use of acronyms to describe them – that they become what we call them in a slow, drip-drip kind of way.
I was waiting to set up for a training session the other day, in a school hall, when a child came into the room. “I’m a Seefree,” he said to me, “where do I go?” I did a double take. “You’re a what?” I asked. “A Seefree,” he repeated. I have to confess that I completely failed to process the word. I had no idea what he could be talking about. Eventually, someone arrived to take him to his Level 3 Consequence (or ‘C3’) detention elsewhere.