Saturday, October 10, 2009


According to the ever-venerable Wikipedia, “okay” is a word “denoting approval, assent, or acknowledgment.” I think I need to post that definition where I can see it prominently. I often use “okay” for acknowledgment; my students hear approval, and between those two uses stretches a field of misunderstanding.

Here’s how the scenario usually goes down:

“Ms. K?”


“I’m not going to be here for the test tomorrow because I have to pick up my uncle’s second cousin from the airport because my grandmother has diabetes, and my father’s car is in the shop and I have to be at work on time or I’ll lose all the fingers on my left hand.” *Details have been changed to protect identities, but please note that the convoluted and urgent nature of the student scenario has been retained.


“Great, bye!”

Weeks later after grades have been posted.

”Ms. K?”


“I have a zero for that test I missed and when I told you I was going to miss it, you said it was fine.”

“I’m sure I never said it was fine. You need to make up that test.”

“You said it was okay! I would have made it up weeks ago when I still knew that story if I’d known it wasn’t okay! Why did you say it was okay?”

“Uh. Hmm.”

Note to self: eradicate “okay” from teaching language. I need a new verbal filler for that scenario. It’s not “okay” with me that the student will be absent, but these aren’t scenarios where I’m being asked for permission. I’m being informed of a decision. Nodding seems like approval, too. I feel rude not saying anything. What else would signify acknowledgment without approval? “Gotcha.” “Sounds complicated.” “I see.” Yes, maybe “I see.” Or maybe, “See me when you get back.” Leave the ball clearly in the student’s corner…I may need to snap a rubber band on my wrist for a while to change this habit…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher


Anonymous said...

Okay, Okay! Back to the thesaurus. I always feel a little odd telling a student that he must concern himself with an assignment when in the greater scheme of things, his problem is way more immediate and important.
At the start of a school year, I inform all students that all assignments must be completed sooner or later. Absent does not mean freebie.
They reply, "Okay!"

Mr. Kenney said...

Was there anything in that message about the test? I mean, did the student explicitly ask for permission to miss the test? If not, then this appears to be an adolescent con. I'm sorry, forgot the story in two weeks means he/she didn't have it in the first place. One can deconstruct this dialog forever and it still comes down to someone trying to duck a responsibility.

Michelle said...

Far too familiar. Except my experience is usually...

"I don't have my homework/journal/paper done and printed for class right now, so can I put it in your mailbox tomorrow morning?"


Two weeks later...

"Mrs. F, why do I have half credit on that homework assignment? I put it in your mailbox like you said I could!"

"But my saying you could put it in my mailbox didn't exempt you from the late work policy, did it?"

Oh teenagers...