"Stop Using Teacher Talk!"

When our daughter went off to kindergarten, I essentially stayed behind to become a preschool teacher. I had a lot to learn, of course, I still do, but at the time I was working on the language piece of the technology of treating children like human beings. I was working on changing a lifetime of bad habits, moving away from adult language that treats children as subordinates toward a way of speaking that gives them the respect we all deserve.

It wasn't easy. I often came off as stilted and slow as I wrestled with my instincts, working to replace my old way to speaking with a new, more thoughtful manner. I practiced constantly, even at home. One day as I struggled to inelegantly convert what was going to be a command into an informational statement, our then six-year-old grew frustrated, shouting, "Stop using teacher talk!"

I knew what she meant. She didn't like her own father to sound strange and artificial, which is how everyone sounds as they learn this stuff. I answered, "I know it sounds weird, but I'm trying to not boss you around." I went on to explain that most of the sentences adults say to children are phrased as commands and that I was trying to stop doing that by instead giving her the chance to do her own thinking. I'll never forget the look on her face as the idea clicked for her. Indeed, she liked it so much that she said that she would help me by pointing out every time I slipped up.

And she did. For the rest of her childhood, she would inform me when I was being bossy. It was at times irritating, but it turned out that she was my best teacher. She would wait while I converted to an informational statement. She liked the way those informational statements, the loose parts of language, opened up space in which she could to do her own thinking, make her own decisions, and offer her own ideas on the subject at hand. I liked the way she took it so seriously, knowing that this wan't a parent-child relationship like those of her friends, but rather one where we were working together as humans beings do when they are at their best.

Over the last couple decades, with her help, it's become more natural to me, although I still slip up at times. Parents often refer to my ability to work cooperatively with children as "Teacher Tom magic," but I quickly disabuse them of that notion. This is why I refer to it as "technology," the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. The pertinent difference being that with magic, once you've revealed how it is done, it stops working, whereas with technology, the more everyone understands how it works, the better it works.

In a broader sense, this is called transparency. Whether it's as adults working with children, employers working with employees, or elected representatives working with constituents, transparency is the magic that turns adversarial relationships into cooperative ones.


If you want to learned more about the technology of speaking with children, you're in luck! I'm currently working on a 6-part e-course in which I'll pull back the curtain to reveal all the secrets. It should be ready by mid-May, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, you might want to check out my new book . . .

Teacher Tom's Second Book. We're offering a pre-publication discount through May 18. Books should arrive before the end of May in the US and a little later in Canada. And while you're on our site, you can also purchase my first book, Teacher Tom's First Book, at a discount as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 9 months due to everything being cancelled. As you can see, I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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