In a profession in which communication is essential, teachers know that words are important. Words have the power to wound, for example, by perpetuating stereotypes, derogatory slurs, prejudice and discrimination. But words can also enable people to reclaim their sense of collective power and agency by naming their experience and describing the reality of their identity.
For all these reasons, it is important to pay attention to the words we use. That said, words are forever shifting, evolving and changing, and the meaning and impact of words are strongly influenced by context. A word used by one person in a certain situation can have a very different significance if the situation and the person change. For example, it is a good idea to avoid the use of derogatory words to describe another group, even if they have been reclaimed by members of that group.
So as we think about the words we use and their impact, we need to remember that:
- we will never learn all the right language;
- we will always make mistakes, everyone does;
- asking about words is a great thing to do;
- words change and become outdated;
- allow the community to determine the terminology;
- apologizing is easy.
The lexicon in this module (Glossary E & I Module) contains definitions which were drawn from several sources, in addition to COPA’s internal and external researchers.