I loved school. I loved being with my friends, learning new concepts, participating in extra-curricular activities, attending pep rallies, and going on field trips. I was a great student. I literally cried all day the last day of my senior year. Thankfully college was just a few months away!
I believe there are several reasons why I enjoyed school and learning. There was the annual new school-clothes shopping trip, as well as purchasing new school supplies. I loved being with my friends every day, having constant activity and opportunities to build my self-esteem by doing well. This love of learning came early in life, as my mother taught me to read and write at a young age, keeping me home for kindergarten while my older brothers went to school every day. She read to me a lot, and taught me to love reading on my own. Reading is certainly the foundation for a great education.
While my mother was my first teacher, I came to know and respect many more teachers throughout my educational career. I remember most of them from even elementary school. I don’t really have any horror stories of disengaged, mean, or unfair teachers. Throughout my 12 years, I was rarely in trouble at school, although I did receive two demerits within six weeks during my sophomore year…three demerits in six weeks and you were automatically put into in-school suspension. My anxiety went through the roof doing everything I could to avoid that outcome! I think being a good student was about more than making good grades. It was about respecting the teachers and administration and giving them my best.
Teachers Can Inspire
I recall two teachers specifically. One was my 6th grade language arts teacher, Mrs. Peeler. She was an experienced educator with a kind voice and love for reading and writing. She was the first teacher to encourage me in my writing. She posted a short story that I wrote on the class bulletin board, encouraged me to enter a poetry contest (I didn’t win, but I did place!), and read out loud to us. Mrs. Peeler held contests for her students to see how many books they could read within a specified period of time…and I read like crazy! She motivated us, loved us, and shared her joy of learning with her students.
Teachers Can Discourage
The other teacher was my 7th grade language arts teacher, whom I’ll call Ms. Clayton (not her real name). She was young, beautiful, and progressive. She taught us to appreciate poetry through studying popular song lyrics. She dressed fashionably, laughed a lot, and talked to us more like a peer than an authority figure. What student wouldn’t want to be in her class? Well, me, after a particular incident.
I woke up one morning in the winter and decided that I wanted to wear my new brown boots to school. I can’t recall if I didn’t have any clean blue jeans or specifically what the laundry situation was, but I choose to wear those brown boots with a green and white-striped sundress layered over a white button down. Looking back, it wasn’t the best outfit I had ever put together, but it was decent and warm, so I thought it worked. Apparently, I was wrong.
I arrived to class on time and on the front row, ready to learn. Ms. Clayton was making small talk with us prior to taking attendance. I don’t remember the conversation, until she turned her attention to me. From her desk, she looked me up and down and then announced, with the whole class listening in, that I looked “awful.” Our cool, hip, young teacher, an icon of fashion to middle school girls, had pronounced that I looked “awful.” I was horrified, hearing the muffled laughs and seeing the other students actually pay attention to what I was wearing. It was not a good day. I don’t recall ever wearing the dress again. Ever. I didn’t tell my parents about the incident and it was never brought up again—not even in an apology from Ms. Clayton.
Our Words Carry Weight
Throughout the years, I’ve heard the voices of Mrs. Peeler and Ms. Clayton in my head over and over. One voice encouraging and affirming; one voice negative and feeding my self-doubt. I learned it was up to me which one to listen to. Thankfully, I have a fair amount of resilience so I learned to listen to Mrs. Peeler more than Ms. Clayton. But imagine if it had gone the other way? Our words are so incredibly powerful!
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). And that the tongue is like a small fire that can ignite a blaze large enough to engulf a forest (James 3:5). It’s easy to be flippant about our speech, use innuendo, or gossip. As adults we may speak about matters within earshot of our kids, thinking that they don’t hear or even understand what we’re talking about. Maybe, like Ms. Clayton, we choose to be outright rude and unnecessarily critical, thinking we’re actually helping the listener improve in some area. Trust me, it really isn’t helpful at all.
In his book Just A Minute, Dr. Wess Stafford, President Emeritus of Compassion International, says that you can help to change the life of a child with a simple, even quick, act of kindness. A smile, a hug, an encouraging word can build up a child—or even an adult—when they need it most. Conversely, a thoughtless action or word can tear one down. Unfortunately, we don’t know how much farther down a person can go before they are on the verge of irretrievable.
Our words are so incredibly powerful! We can encourage or feed someone’s self doubt.
Make your words count. Bite your tongue, literally if necessary, when tempted to be rude, discouraging, or disparaging.
“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29).
It’s actually pretty simple: Choose kindness or choose to be quiet.
You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: How Do I Know What Defines Me? – 078