Say you're brand-new to teaching in Philadelphia, and a student drops a casual "sawty" into conversation, as in "I thought I was going to make the bus, but I was sawty."
Panic? Reveal yourself as an out-of-touch old? No way. The young bouls have you covered. (For the record, sawty is a word to express being wrong.)
For the first time, the Philadelphia School District has presented its new teachers and counselors with a handbook written by high school students. It features sections on engaging students, equality vs. equity, and the all-important "Philly Slang" component, a glossary of terms designed to ground school staff in the language their students actually use.
As in jawn: a noun to describe anything. A jawn can literally be any person, place or thing. Ex: "Can you pass me that jawn?"
And ocky: fake or not authentic. Ex: "Ayo, ya Tims ocky!"
See also — outta pocket: out of line or acting up. Ex: "My teacher gave me two hours of homework today, she outta pocket!"
The handbook is the handiwork of Khalid Abogourin, Alfredo Praticò, and Horace Ryans III, three high school students interning in the district's Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities this summer. When the trio heard about a Midwestern school district whose students wrote a similar manual, they knew they had to act.
"We said, 'We don't have one of those, and we can do better,'" said Ryans, a rising junior at Science Leadership Academy who hails from the Northeast. "A lot of these teachers aren't from Philly, have not taught in the inner city, and come in expecting to know the students right off the bat."
The glossary was self-sourced, said Abogourin, who is about to start his senior year at the Philadelphia Virtual Academy, the district's cyber school.
"I'm from Southwest Philadelphia, and I said, 'OK, what words do kids use in the classroom,'" said Abogourin.
Wack, for instance, was a no-brainer, as in "corny" or "dumb," example: "Man, that's wack!" And there were the usual Philly suspects: cheesesteak ("Philadelphia's beloved sandwich, made with sliced steak served on a long roll. Good for breakfast, lunch or dinner"; jimmies ("No ice cream cone is complete without jimmies, which are known to the rest of the world as sprinkles"); and water ice ("Pronounced wooder ice, a delicious summer treat that is synonymous with Italian ice").
"We had authentic Philly conversations and said, 'Hey, yo, that jawn is crazy. We need to add that!" said Ryans.
In the end, 22 terms found their way into the glossary, which the authors summarized to great reviews at the district's new-hire orientation this month.
Remember, they said: Not every student will connect with you right away. Build trust over time.
"With many students, it'll be easy," the students wrote. "However, there will be some students who seem to be unmotivated or unattached in the classroom. These are the students that you should love the most."
Keep a few themes in mind, the students urged teachers: Recognize the positive, keep an open mind, engage me, understand your students, and equality vs. equity.
On that theme, they shared a scenario. Say a student is struggling in class because his parents work long hours, he often babysits younger siblings. And say the teacher — call her Mrs. Hill — reaches out to the student to figure out what's going on, then offers extra help on her lunch break. The student takes advantage of it, and his grades improve dramatically.
"Mrs. Hill established equity inside the classroom," the handbook reads. "She could have easily ignored the student's problem and still expected him to do well in her class. This may have eventually led to him shutting everyone out and not performing to his best capabilities. However, since she went out of her way to establish equity, that student now feels that someone sees potential in him and that if he really tries, he is able to perform at his best. This will stick with him for the rest of his life."