Tech & Work

Choose your words carefully to avoid offending your students

Using "politically correct" language isn't an outdated notion. If you're not cautious, what you say can get you in hot water. Here are some points to remember.


In this day and age, people in general have become hypersensitive to certain topics of discussion. So in an effort to save some of you the risk of insulting someone and potentially losing a customer or a student, let me suggest a few things for you to consider before speaking to a group of people or an individual.

It’s what you say and how you say it
I realize the issues of speaking and behaving in a “politically correct” manner have been discussed ad infinitum. However, it is important to remember that people are sensitive, especially to someone whom they have just met. Your students will try to size you up by what you say and how you react/interact with them. Therefore, it never hurts to review the subjects and language that you should avoid in a professional environment. Here’s my list:
  • Religion: Most people have strong religious beliefs and don’t want to hear that the trainer they’re paying has any beliefs different from theirs. Don’t ever open up the topic of religion for discussion in the classroom—unless you want to offend someone.
  • Ethnicity and gender: Avoid using any slang that suggests an ethnic stereotype. Also avoid terms like sweetie, babe, or honey when addressing a female student. Until you know your students well, take care in how you joke with them. If you are in a class full of mostly women, don’t pick on the guys. The women will probably love it, but a sensitive man will definitely take offense to your humor.
  • Accents: Never make fun of someone’s accent in a class. If you like to tell jokes in the classroom, think to yourself, could I tell this to a priest without offending him? If I feign an accent, even in jest, am I acting out a negative stereotype?
  • Politics: Some people have strong political beliefs and will express their opinions to the entire class. This could get ugly. Two gentlemen in one of my classes had such strong political beliefs that they got into a shouting match during the training. It was a bad experience for the whole class—and nerve-racking for me. So try to avoid discussion on any political subject.
  • Sarcasm and condescension: You may want to avoid putting a student on the spot to answer a question. It’s bad news if they don’t know the answer. Instead of pressuring an individual about an answer, ask the class as a group, “Does anyone know the answer to that one?”
  • The bottom line is: Always think before you speak, and try to remember that people are sensitive to everything you say.

James Adams is an artist who specializes in teaching graphics applications. Follow this link to comment on this article or to write to James .

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