I recently read this article, by Scott D. Farver in Education Week about the importance of language in teaching. I was especially interested because he is writing about something that I frequently do myself. I know that the words we choose as teachers are important, but I have chosen to mostly ignore my usage of the word “guys”. I have often walked up to a group of mostly girls and said, “How are you guys doing?” or “What do you guys think?” (Now that I am paying closer attention, I realize just how frequently I say it.)
Several years ago, the child care center were I taught was undergoing National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation. As part of this process, teachers were urged to pay closer attention to the language we used. I remember how hard it was to break the habit of calling children by nicknames and endearments (the reasoning behind this was to ensure that children were being treated equally). Slowly I was able to wean all the buddys and sweethearts out of my daily speech. But, what I didn’t agree with was the use of guys. I felt like it was almost a cultural thing and I didn’t feel like it was detrimental to girls. So I have kept using it.
After I read the article in Education Week, I have come across other people talking about this issue. I know there are other ways we can address the students in our classrooms. I use names whenever possible, but often fall back on using “guys” when talking to a group. I’ve heard of teachers using a term related to the subject they are teaching (ie. “Mathemeticians” or “Artists”), but something about that doesn’t quite feel right for me. I also couldn’t envision myself saying “Boys and Girls” to address a group.
Is the use of “guys” inappropriate? Does it send the wrong message to the girls in the class? Does it make the classroom environment too informal and send a message that I am not taking the learning seriously?