Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Power of Words

On yesterday's post, Real World Mom left a comment that, in part, said:

....He had a science project where he was to cut a whale out of wood and paint it. Under the supervision of his dad, Son #2 cut and completed his whale *on his own*. In my opinion, he did a helluva job! The day he turned the project in, he came home and told me that the teacher said to him, "This is supposed to be a whale? It looks more like a fish!" And she had the NERVE to give him a lousy grade! Needless to say, I was heartbroken for him--and really angry at her!

This teacher's actions got to me, too. As a middle school teacher (and mom of a middle schooler) I know first-hand that the slightest cut said even in jest, without intended malice, can cut to the quick of a child's self esteem. I'll bet most people who read this will be able to recall something negative that was said to them (by an adult or a peer) when they were a child that has stuck with them their entire lives. In contrast, I'm hopeful that everyone can also remember sometime positive that was said to them and stuck.

For me, the negative comment was being called "Dummy!" by my dad when I was a kid, having made some mistake. I'm sure he didn't think much of it, but it was very hurtful, especially hearing it often. To this day, whenever I make a mistake, I catch myself referring to myself as "stupid" or "a dummy."

The positive thing that stuck with me (thank God) was from Miss (Elaine) Johnson (my 6th grade teacher). She told me that I had quite a talent for writing and that she was delighted by my work. By a stroke of fate, I ran into Elaine again as teaching student; she became my supervisor for my student teaching. This began a relationship that continued for years (we'd go out for lunch every so often), until she passed away a few years ago. Even after all these years, Elaine's eyes lit up at memories of me as a 6th grader; I can't tell you how much this meant to me, and it reminded me of how important a teacher's attitude toward a student can be.

Teachers, parents, and people in general need to remember that kids' egos are fragile and need to be treated as such; our words have the potential to build or break a child's spirit.

"Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are true and kind, they can change the world." --- Bhudda

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