I was still a young teacher when I realized I had stepped to the high side of the generation gap. Used to being lumped in with "you kids" or "young people today," I optimistically insisted that, except for a few vocabulary words, all generations spoke the same language. I was, after all, an adult who continued to say "cool," but had renounced "groovy" and "psychedelic."
So I couldn’t believe it when, teaching about radioactivity, I received blank stares and furrowed brows over the word "fallout." Holy cow! I was introduced to the word in My Weekly Reader as a fourth grader. In the fifth grade, Civil Defense pamphlets detailing methods of dealing with regional nuclear blasts and their fallout were sent home with me. How could a word that struck such terror simply disappear?
I defined the term and we discussed the scary results. Fallout took its place as a vocabulary term on a matching activity. It was worth $200 in a review Jeopardy game. After that, it faded into obscurity as the class moved to less frightening topics. (By the way, the term fallout has made a comeback. It can refer to the negative results of any occurrence, such as, "You’ll just have to accept the fallout from that decision, Kid.")
Later that month, I passed out calculators (before every kid had a phone that carried one). We determined the amount of power used when work was done. "You guys are so lucky not to need a slide rule for this exercise," I joked. Crickets and blank stares had me moving on.
I thought about terms such as shop class, party line, ice box, and record player. Each one bringing rich memories. Future generations will chuckle over their same language evolutions.
As the students left that day, I called out, "It’ll be cold tomorrow! Don’t forget your parka."
Despite the urge to race out, a few halted. "What’s a parka?" one asked.
"Heavy jacket!" I shouted. Sigh.