As I have moved through my career as an educator and student of education, I have encountered numerous terms that, though unfamiliar at first, are now a part of my everyday vocabulary. Unlike terms associated with specific scientific disciplines, or even with other areas in the social sciences, educational jargon is present, at some point, in all of our lives. However, it is rarely explained and educators often forget that these are terms that they once did not know either.
When I teach Introduction to Education, I am constantly reminded that many educational terms are specific to the discipline rather than universal. One of the most commonly used terms is “pedagogy”, which I often explain as fancy way of saying “teaching style”, although it also involves a person’s philosophical beliefs about education and how children learn. In recent years, many terms related to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) have entered into everyday educational talk. For example, educators regularly refer to the ability of a school to make AYP, or adequate yearly progress. This refers to whether or not the required percentage of students in a given school have passed the state exams. It also refers to whether the correct number of students in each subgroup have passed the exams. This term “subgroup” is another piece of the jargon and refers varius groups present in schools, including racial/ethnic groups, English Language Learners, students with IEPs (individualized educational plans), and economically disadvantaged students. Whether or not a school meets AYP has an immense impact on how schools are run and the funding they receive, and it is often used without explanation. Other commonly used terms, like “tracking” and “inclusion”, refer to specific practices that are often debated in education. In order to make sense of what is written and said about education in the United States today, it is important to understand these terms.
In writing this post, I found two useful websites that give an overview of some common educational jargon. The Dictionary of Educational Jargon (http://www.teachervision.fen.com/pro-dev/new-teacher/48466.html) provides two pages of commonly-used terms defined for those entering the educational profession. The Glossary of Educational Terms (http://www.schoolwisepress.com/smart/dict/dict.html) provides a more extensive list of educational terms defined to assist parents in navigating the educational world. Both sites are useful if you would like to learn more about educational jargon, or, like many of us, simply understand what everyone is talking about!
In the field of education, there are many opportunities for research using a variety of methods. As part of the doctoral program, all students are required to take 4 courses in research methods divided between qualitative and quantitative methods. Depending on the research interest of the student, they may select either methodology, or a combination of both. Quantitative research is research that uses numerical data analysis to support a hypothesis. This type of research is done when conducting program evaluation or when looking for statistical support for a position. Qualitative research is done when the researcher is looking to explain a particular phenomenon. This includes case studies, ethnographies, narrative descriptions, etc.
As part of the research sequence, many doctoral students in the field of education conduct a pilot study. These studies, although they are conducted as part of the qualitative methods course, tend to combine qualitative and quantitative methods to some extent. The pilot study allows students to go into a setting similar to that in which they hope to conduct their dissertation research and get a first-hand sense of what conducting qualitative research is like. In this study, students may take field notes, conduct interviews, analyze documents, survey individuals, and practice any other techniques that they may find useful in their future research. Overall, the research methodologies sequence at the Graduate School of Education is extremely useful in identifying the methods that will be most helpful in conducting dissertation research.
Keeping with the theme of being a TA, which I agree has been a valuable experience, I am going to expand on Alexandra’s second point: Time Management. Being a TA at Rutgers commits you to 15 hours of work per week. For my course, this includes 3 hours a week of actual teaching, several hours of planning classes and reading (or re-reading) course material, 1-2 hours of office hours, and a great deal of time spent reading and grading student work and responding to their emails. Generally, this is very manageable. However, there always comes that moment at the end of the semester when you wonder if you will ever get all of your work and grading done. I can tell you that you will; it just takes some careful planning throughout the semester.
My first piece of advice is to work ahead where you can on your own coursework. Yes, that project may not be due until the last day of class, but if you can start it early, you will be much less stressed in the end. Second, if you can get an existing syllabus for the course you will be teaching during the summer before, this gives you the opportunity to read the materials for the course ahead of time, rather than trying to do everything during the semester. Finally, figure out where your students struggle and work with them throughout the semester. My students have to turn in three extensive written projects. I provide them with a large amount of support on the first two projects so that they are able to write the final project independently. Most courses have a final project that is due at the end of the semester, when graduate students are busiest, and helping students extensively throughout the semester means that you can devote more time to your own work at the end of the semester.
While each course is different, these tips will hopefully be useful as you begin your graduate career. If you are offered the opportunity to TA, I highly recommend that you accept the offer. While it does mean some extra work, the benefits are enormous and the workload is certainly manageable.