The Encyclopedia of Education

A New Guide for Emerging Terms and Euphemisms


Administrivia – A portmanteau of “administrator” and “trivial” describing unnecessary work upper-level managers consider essential, including but not limited to: meeting in department teams to establish norms for professional learning communities, meeting in professional learning communities to “unpack” an organization’s mission statement, and plugging boxes on Professional Development Time Sheets.



The recounting of work-related difficulties such as, “I fell off the high-rise scaffolding,” “The trench collapsed,” and, for the teacher, “I spent all weekend grading.” Such conversational threads thrive in lunchrooms where unionized laborers and like-minded individuals conspire, and die in balanced, heterogeneous contexts. A teacher at a holiday party describing to other professionals the difficulties of working with young people should expect to be met with, “Give me a break. You teachers never roll off your bed of nails.” Syn.: woe-is-us, bug list, gritch. See: crab bucket


ATTO (“All That Time Off”) – PD days, three-day weekends, winter breaks, spring breaks, summer vacations, et al. where teachers are paid to do nothing.


Axe Body Spray

The all-purpose fragrance doubling as a psychological defense against the world. Scents range from Tsunami to Dark Temptation.


Binge-and-purge – 1. Bulimic behavior. 2. Pre-exam consumption of information followed by the regurgitation of information on fill-in-the-blank exams provided by Mr. Smith, the teacher. Information consists of terms and definitions Mr. Smith infodumps on students, and students hurl the information back at Mr. Smith at rates comparable to which it is consumed. Ant.: cumulative exam. See: infodump


Canary in the coal mine

1. A highly responsive bird capable of sensing dangerous accumulations of methane and carbon monoxide in mine shafts. So long as miners hear the song of the canary, air is safe. When the canary stops chirping, miners know to evacuate. 2. An unfailingly optimistic teacher sensitive to levels of toxicity in a school. As long as colleagues hear the teacher whistling, levels of workplace listlessness and negativity are within reason.


Crab Bucket Syndrome – 1. A crab climbs the sides of a bucket to escape, but other crabs drag it down. 2. A culture of low expectations where students attempting good work must suffer. “Why’d you do your homework?” an influential teen asks an ambitious peer. “If no one does the work, the teacher can’t do anything.” Students desiring escape must be equalized, for no student should violate the three-tenet crab bucket credo keeping everyone sharing the same fate: 1) no crab leaves the bucket; 2) everyone waddles side-to-side; 3) the biggest organisms make the case for everyone. Students who do good work say, “Oh, I had extra time because I was grounded,” or, “Mom made me do this. I had no choice.” See: Lost Boys, equalizers. Ant: Valedictocracy


Donut class

A group of young people whose inclinations, dispositions, and actions leave little or nothing in the middle. The bloated perimeter consists of stellar and stupid students who keep Mr. Smith busy writing detention slips and letters of recommendation. A circular image for a linear concept, “donut class” is a term with limited productivity. Syn.: mayonnaise sandwich


Earthquake Class – A group thought by the teacher to endure disaster with grace. Though emergency states necessitate authority figures care for all humans, Mr. Smith has preferences, especially when selecting a cohort with survivalist skills. “Third period could endure squalor,” Mr. Smith said once at lunch, “but fourth period communicates without cruelty. I guess first period could steal from the cafeteria if they had to.”

Equalizers – Incentives and standards ensuring students absorb material at identical rates. A popular equalizer is the “rubric,” a teacher-provided spreadsheet prescribing skills and content students should learn while completing an assignment.


Flipping switches

The moment a teacher turns lights off, and turns lights on, to solicit a class’ attention. Lacking the knowledge or nerve to command young people’s attention by changing his volume or tone, Mr. Smith flips light switches.


Floobie joobie – Content area vernacular spread in classrooms, conference rooms, peer-reviewed journals, and two-foot radii of professional development coaches who love multi-syllabic words in silly phrases. Examples include: “Aggregate data suggests school-wide efforts to embed essential learning requirements in daily content objectives will correlate with improved test scores,” and, “The simultaneity of oppression and self-determination was evident in the linearity of the character’s being-looked-at-ness.” Though shared references and vocabularies aid communication across boundaries, floobie joobie surpasses the necessary degree of specialization. Syn.: jargon, gibberish, pedagogese, edutalk


Frequent Flyers

Students like Jared who skip class to go elsewhere on campus. Smoking cigarettes under bleachers during intercom announcements, skipping assemblies to befriend security guards, and cutting Biology to play three-on-three basketball in the gym, Jared is like a bee in spring: known by everyone but hard to pin down. Jared finds his way into classrooms to make a show about leaving. Ant.: Kling-on


Getting blooded – Rite of passage where animal blood is wiped on the face of the hunter who killed it.

GED (“Good Enough Degree”) – Certification awarded to students like Jared who cannot complete diploma requirements in general education settings but desire academic credentials. Like most degrees, the GED is printed in color and signed by one or more individuals with extensive certification, usually an MFA (“mother fucking assholery”) or PHD (“pile it higher and deeper”). Syn. “Ds get degrees”

HMT (“High Moral Tone”) – Self-righteous attitude assumed by Mr. Smith at the start of a semester (“This syllabus will tell you when each assignment is due”), sustained through mid-terms (“I didn’t think review was necessary but…”), and abandoned during course evaluations (“I certainly enjoyed working with you…”).



The sharing of handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and lecture notes in one fell swoop. In the modern world, infodumping occurs when Mr. Smith prepares “below standard” students for state and national exams the week before exams are given. Classically, infodumping was the domain of history teachers wanting students to “get” all of American History in one year, so while the unit on Westward Expansion was planned for three weeks in May, four days in June sufficed. Ant.: edutainment, funderstanding. See: binge-and-purge


List, the – When a non-teaching friend asks Mr. Smith about online dating and Mr. Smith replies, “Teachers are asked to be more than teachers. I am a counselor, a secretary, an entertainer, a guide, a confidante, a hallway monitor, a babysitter, and a friend. I teach English, but I also teach consumer awareness, drug and alcohol prevention, conflict mediation, keyboarding, internet safety, character education, and more. I check for lice, censor T-shirts, and provide deodorant… I practically raise these kids!”

Living in the footnotes – When confused students dwell in the explanations at the bottoms of pages. [i]

Load-bearing wall – 1. The support beam that holds the weight of a house or structure. 2. An advanced student like Lindsey who does most of the work in a group project.


Lost Boys

1. According to Pan legend, Lost Boys fell out of their baby carriages when nurses and nannies weren’t looking. If unclaimed for seven days, the boys went to Neverland to live with Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Lost Girls did not exist because girls were happy sleeping in strollers and staring at clouds.

2. According to Mr. Smith, fifth period is overrun with Lost Boys who make their needs known, shouting their thoughts and moving about the room at will. Lindsey gets no attention because she stares at her lap and contemplates girl things.


Manky – A hybrid of “man” and “stinky,” manky describes a young man’s concentrated odor. See: Axe Body Spray 

Neverland – Where students go to never think about school. See also: Teacher Narnia

Peter Principle, the – Management theory suggesting people will be promoted until they reach a position of “maximum incompetence.” See: walking clipboard, or, “Why Things Always Go Wrong” by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull


Preparation H

1. The process by which driven parents prepare children for Harvard. Preparation H begins at birth and continues through high school and beyond, when parents contact Mr. Smith about changes in seating charts and stop him after Sunday service to ask why Joel received half credit on a lab report. “With more grades like that,” the parent says, “Joel will not be eligible for Harvard or Yale, much less UW.”

2. Hemorrhoid cream. Related: smothering mothering, alpha parenting, helicopter parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Homework Helper, VIP (Virtually Irate Parent), HYP (Harvard-Yale-Princeton)


Seating Chart Tetris

When a teacher assigns or reassigns seats and asks, “Is separating Andy from Jared a good idea? What if separating Andy from Jared makes Jared pick up a desk and wave it around? What if placing Andy in the vicinity of Jared but out of arm’s reach frustrates Jared more? Jared started coming to class.” The teacher believing constant change stumbles on improvement reassigns seats monthly. The teacher knowing the hours required by one round of Seating Chart Tetris assigns seats at the start of the year and at the semester. The teacher ignorant of the correlation between assigned seats and the development of a healthy classroom community allows students to segregate themselves by personality (Organized and Female, Disorganized and Male, Uglies, Extras) and spends class time monitoring airspace for paper footballs. Syn.: Musical Chairs


Smile file – A folder where Mr. Smith stores thank-you notes, drawings, nice emails, and notes left by substitutes that say, “Good kids. I had no problems.” Syn.: rainy day file


Teacher fort

Bookshelf, cabinet, computer, and desk assembled to look like an “office.” Generally, furniture arrangement communicates a teacher’s willingness to interact with students, e.g. the open construction of a “campsite fort” invites approach from a variety of angles while the blockaded stronghold of a “castle fort” divides and isolates.


Teacher Narnia – 1. Fantasyland where students sharpen pencils before class, take notes during lecture, and ask personality-specific questions after the bell. Teachers imagine this fictional setting while preparing lessons on topics about which they care. 2. The place students imagine teachers go when school is over. Rather than drive to the grocery store to purchase frozen chicken nuggets for their families or Fancy Feast for their cats, teachers lock their classroom doors from the inside, step inside their corner closets, and crawl over DVD cases and bee traps toward a realm where animals speak, authority figures fly, and morality is at stake. See: Neverland


Turkey trot, the

The shuffling of bad teachers or administrators from one school or district to another. Syn.: the lemon dance


Voluntold – When a superior says to an employee, “I wanted to check with you… or rather, wanted to let you know… I should tell you we’ve decided you’ll be part of the school improvement team… and we appreciate your flexibility.” Syn.: WTF NJD (What The Fuck? Not in my Job Description)

Waking the giant – 1. Children unwisely interrupting the slumber of a creature who may seethe and storm when roused. 2. A phone call in which a teacher provokes an apathetic parent into action by providing unexpectedly negative information about his or her child or children. When the parent responds angrily to the information, saying, “Tomorrow Eric will show up to class in a body cast,” and the teacher remains silent, and the parent continues, “Oh, that’s right, you’re from the Oprah generation” and ends the call, the teacher wonders what punishment awaits the young person. A good teacher wakes the giant only when necessary.


Walking clipboard

Any visiting administrator, pedagogue, or technocrat standing or kneeling next to students, asking, “What is the objective of this lesson?” for the purpose of recording the answers on an iPad. Syn.: snoopervisor, curriculum cop


Working sails – Fabric surfaces used in normal winds to move a vessel forward.

[i] With minimal recall of what happened in the past and little ability to predict what will happen in the future.