Attending to the Pain and Poison


Language can carry power in unambiguous but nuanced ways and can serve to establish, maintain, defend, and modify hierarchies. This holds true in the field of education in general, and in teacher preparation in particular, all of which is heightened in a language-contact setting. Because each educator brings a complex history and identity, nested in temporal, and spatial, historical, and individual contexts, working in a multilingual and multicultural environment invites deep introspection as a means to identify areas of opportunity, limit, strength, and potential for growth. As such, this research explores specifically identified “trigger words” (those words or terms identified by participants as carrying pain or poison, in particular, contexts) as they emerge in teacher preparation, language contact context. In this descriptive case study set in a graduate school of education in the Northwestern US, I explore the ways groups of multi-lingual and multi-cultural teacher candidates navigated the issues surrounding the use of particular terms or trigger words. Each of these trigger words, generated by members of the classroom community, carried a connotation of oppression, marginalization, power, or privilege, frequently in ways that were coded and known to some members of the community, while being either unfamiliar to or seen as neutral by other members of the community. This study explored this collaboratively-generated list of “trigger words” identified by teacher candidates during course meetings.


Trigger Words, Teacher Preparation, Power, Privilege, Language


2019 Special Focus: "Learning to Make a Social Difference"


Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


  • Anita Bright
    • Associate Professor; ESOL Program Coordinator, Graduate School of Education; Curriculum and Instruction, Portland State University, United States Oregon, United States