Talk Like an Educator: the Devil's Grad School Dictionary

A resource for when cynicism bestows clarity.

Inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary:

Contributors: Jacob Watson, Rose Connelly, Rebecca Solomon, Amanda Dunne Acevedo, Vanessa Chung, and Jordan Koffman

“Grad school” can be a confusing place. People function on little sleep, many burritos, and they may use strange words that are difficult to understand. Lucky for you, I have assembled — in collaboration with my colleagues at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — a guide to 60 of the most perplexing and frequently-used words and phrases in graduate school terminology (in our experience). We hope this guide (while irreverent) is enlightening at best, or entertaining at least. Without further ado, here are the words, listed in no particular order:

Differentiated (adj.): refers to a style of teaching that also includes students

Metacognition (n): daydreaming for grad students

Puzzle (n): a problem wearing a fancy hat

Dilemma (n): a sad puzzle

“A-Ha!” moment (n): the moment when you discover something about one of your puzzles. (see above)

Grappling (v): 1) indoor nerd exercise; 2) the action of scrambling to grab all the pieces of your life that are falling apart in grad school

“Deep dive” (n): outdoor nerd exercise (imaginary)

Scaffold (v): the process of building on existing apathy to produce more sophisticated levels of disinterest

Emancipatory (adj.): see: “graduation”

Protocol (n): “a thing we’re gonna do”

“Theory and practice” (n): literally everything

Liminal (adj.): nobody knows, not even spell-check

Unpack (v): the process of carefully substituting the nuances of existing ideas for one’s own original thought

“The ways in which” (col.): “how,” double-spaced

Interesting (adj.): 1) not interesting; 2) I vehemently disagree (e.g “I think it’s interesting you said that…”)

Pedagogy (n): “teaching philosophy,” but wearing a monocle

Theoretical framework (n): roughly translates to “I know what I’m doing, okay??!”

Heteronormativity (n): systemic bias favoring attractions across theoretical frameworks

Praxis (n): practice, but with tattoos

Iterative (adj.): a process that obscures an idea through continual reinvention

Performative (adj.): reminding one of Instagram, but IRL

Embodied: (adj.) 1) an approach to learning that involves a firm commitment to avoiding the necessary process of articulating ideas through writing;  2) learning something while simultaneously admitting to having a body (how dare you!)

“Right?” (n): 1) a post-script, right? used to emphasize the intelligence of the speaker, right? 2) when you make a shot in the dark comment during a class discussion and desperately need affirmation

“Double click” (v): a high-tech way of reminding someone that they didn’t fully understand something and now you have to explain it more deeply

Modality (n): the way one does something using someone else’s ideas

Reductionistic (adj): the quality of being oversimplified, basically

Grad student (n): one who worries equally about the future of public education and the future of having clean laundry

“Zone of proximal development” (n): the space between me and my best me if i could get my life together

Eschatology (n): the study of post-graduate life

Phenomenological (adj.): relating to things that happen (yes, really)

Epistemology (n): 1) a word you kinda know, kinda-maybe, that you use to talk about things you do know; 2) the organism responsible for spreading the mysterious graduate student illness, epistemitis: an inflammation of the ways of knowing

Ontology (n): that Hamlet quote

Positionality (n): where you are seated in the room in relation to the teaching team so that you look engaged enough, when in reality you are googling the average salaries of people with master’s degrees

Juxtaposition (n): the feeling of absurdity that results from placing your degrees and credentials next to your actual job prospects

Discursive (adj.): related to talkin’ bout stuff  

Dialectical (adj.): related to talkin ‘bout stuff with people who don’t agree with you

Hegemony (n): women, but only at a graduate school of education

Posit (v): 1) to put forth, fancily, 2) a respectful introduction to a disrespectful suggestion

“Intellectual diversity” (n): a euphemism for “we’d like to include to hate speech in the discourse, because it’s important to tolerate intolerance”

Efficacy (n): effectiveness, but make it fashion

Heuristics (n): obvious observations portrayed as insightful

Problematic (adj): an accusation intended to limit the duration of a classmate’s comments

Hermeneutics (n): the process of trying to figure out what the deal is with your classmates in the Div school course you are taking

Exegetical (adj.): look, I’m not gonna “explain” exegesis to you, okay!?

Empirical (adj.): because science said so

Iatrogenic (adj.): see: student loan debt

Personalization (n): the clumsy inclusion of technology in the classroom, because the New York Times said so

Situate (v): “put,” but smarter

Clarifying question (n): a question that minimizes confusion, at least in theory (should not be conflated with confounding questions; oops, I just made it worse, didn’t I?)

Lit review (n): when the research is liiiiiiiiiiit and you just gotta let the fam know about it!

*snaps* (v): a self-affirmation of another, i.e., “I appreciate you restricting your comments to something I already agree with.”

“I’m dead” (col.): when you’re not, but you wish you were, but only until after finals

“Navigating a space” (col.): being somewhere

Lens (n): imaginary tool that helps you talk about seeing things from different perspectives, but really just the one

Proposal (n): self-inflicting torture device that has an initial discomfort, followed by weeks of anxiety, and culminating in the death of inspiration; required

Salient (adj): a salty way of saying your idea is more important

Monolithic (adj): only one lithic

“That’s a great question” (col.): “I hate you and I’m trying to figure out how to say it politely”

Paradigm/Paradigm Shift (n): a fundamental change from your perspective being right to my perspective being right

“Mmm” (col.): indicates “I’m also smart although I have not significantly contributed to this discourse in any way.”