I love words. I love thinking about them, and I love listening to them. I get excited when they are used in new and interesting ways, and I get frustrated when I find myself at a loss for them.
Last evening, after spending an hour with five education colleagues on TV Ontario’s Public Affairs program The Agenda with Steve Paikin, I came away with a better appreciation of just how important the right words are and how messages can become somewhat murky when our words are not precise enough.
When I was invited to be part of last night’s panel, I was told by producer Sandra Gionas that they were looking to have a discussion about the role of teachers in light of the recent tensions between Ontario teachers and the provincial government. But if you listen to Steve Paikin’s introduction to the episode you’ll hear him ask whether extracurricular activities should be part of a teacher’s job.
So, prompted by a couple of tweets and emails, I’ve found myself carrying the two words, job and role, with me today.
In consulting with dictionary.com, I found that the two words have both quantitative and qualitative differences. There are 23 different usages for the word job, yet only 3 for role. And when you examine the definitions carefully, you begin to notice just how different the two words are.
From my reading, jobs are discrete, defined and, in a sense, limited. There is an understanding that jobs are bound by time and space and have a clear and recognizable set of criteria that allow us to proclaim, “A job well done,” or “You did a sh^#$y job!”
Jobs, despite their complexity, can be described.
Roles, I sense, are generally understood to be different. Perhaps the best explanation of the difference came to me in the idea that, while jobs are the content, roles are the context. While it’s possible to assign a number of jobs to a particular role, a hard and fast definition of what, precisely, it means to play that role is somewhat more confounding.
So how do these meanderings—and that’s what they are at this point—apply to teaching. Well, perhaps I’ll pose a few questions to you first. Is teaching a job, or is it a role? Has this understanding changed over the years? Is it possible to define the work of a teacher, in the same way that one would define the work of, say, an appliance repair person, or an accountant? Is this a conversation that is unique to those working in education?
I intend to follow up on this initial thinking with some specific thoughts on how language can affect the way we perceive the role of teacher and the future of the profession! But if you missed last night’s conversation, here is a direct link to the video feed along with the text of Steve Paikin’s introduction. Looking forward to the conversation!