the power of our words

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I came across this quote on Pinterest one day, and I felt instantly convicted. I tend to get a little snarky and sarcastic with my students when they walk in with their middle school attitudes and drama. Usually I am very good-natured with them, but at times I lose my patience and put those crazies in their place with an arched eyebrow, a pointed finger and a subtle insult. Of course it’s necessary to be firm, but instead of snapping, “Seriously? Are you like, five years old? Get it together, Gavin,” maybe I could say, “Gavin, you’re really good at this type of question. Try it out and stay focused, dude.”

On the other hand, I really can’t stand it when teachers talk to middle schoolers like they’re in Kindergarten. You will never ever hear me say, “Good morning, boys and girls! Today we are going to go on a learning adventure and discover how George Washington became the first president of the United States!” Yuck.

But there is a very wide middle ground between being insincerely sugary sweet and practically bullying your students into humiliated submission. Different teachers bring with them different personalities (thank goodness!) so your middle ground won’t look exactly the same as mine. This quote is a great reminder, though, that our words have the potential to ring in our students’ ears. I know people who never forgot harsh words spoken by parents or teachers. But fortunately, it would be fantastic if our students internalized comments like, “That was a fabulous question!” or, “You are such a hard worker!” or, “Wow, this group is lucky to have your drawing skills for their project!” Let’s give them a leg up on that whole finding-your-inner-voice thing while we can. ūüôā

picture day

Today was Picture Day. ¬†I forgot. ¬†But when I noticed about five boys in a row wearing button-down shirts I figured something was up. ¬†Luckily I’m still in the first-few-weeks-of-school-and-trying-to-look-authoritative phase, so at least I was wearing a cardigan. ¬†I look like a total dork in my picture, but I figured it was just the middle school awkward-ness rubbing off on me.

I think I’ll always remember this Picture Day, though. ¬†Technology has increased at an almost alarming rate since I last took a school picture, and the kids got photo ID cards right away. ¬†The Lifetouch people just print them out right there in the gym! ¬†It was very impressive.

But that’s not why I’ll remember today.

In my 6th grade English class the students were working on a brainstorming graphic organizer activity. ¬†They are supposed to be coming up with a complex main character for the Fortunately, Unfortunately stories that they’ll be starting tomorrow. ¬†(I’ll dedicate another blog post to that assignment soon). ¬†I was trolling around the room, checking on students’ progress and making sure that everyone was quiet enough that we could still hear Katy Perry sing, “Ro-o-o-o-o-o-a-a-ar,” at medium volume level. ¬†Most kids were comparing their photo ID cards.

One boy showed me his ID card and said, “I look like my dad in this picture. ¬†Isn’t that funny?” ¬†I smiled and said, “Yeah, funny!” and started to move on to another group.

“My dad died when I was in 3rd grade,” he added.

I stopped in my tracks. ¬†“Oh my gosh, that is really, really sad,” I said. ¬†“It’s good that you look like him so that when your family sees you, they’ll think of your dad and be happy.” ¬†I don’t know how I came up with that. ¬†I think the Holy Spirit gave me the words because I kind of wanted to just cry for him.

“He died of diabetes,” he continued. ¬†“So I think I might get it, too. ¬†I have to be really healthy.”

“Yes, please make sure you eat really good food, okay? ¬†You have to stay healthy!”

“Yeah, I think he was sick because of what he ate. ¬†Also my dog died in 3rd grade.”

Really, kid? ¬†My heart can only take so much! ¬†“Wow, that sounds like a really sad year. ¬†What a combination! ¬†That must have been really hard.”

He was very matter-of-fact about his loss and his health concerns, but he didn’t seem too shaken up at that moment. ¬†I eventually had to move on to make sure people in other groups had something (anything!) written down on their worksheets, but his little face stayed with me all day. ¬†I think he is eleven, and he has already faced such heartbreaking life events. ¬†I still don’t know what it feels like to lose a parent. ¬†I haven’t even lost a grandparent.

He reminded me that these kids have so many issues hiding just below the surface. ¬†Honestly, most have them have faced more hardships in their short lives than I have in mine. ¬†They deal with so much, and then sometimes I get mad at them for not getting their homework turned in. ¬†I feel like it is my responsibility to hold them to a high standard so that they become responsible people, and they can rely on themselves. ¬†Some of these kids don’t have trustworthy or capable adults in their lives, so it’s important to me that they become trustworthy and capable for themselves. ¬†But sometimes I just need to give them grace. ¬†And genuine sympathy and care. ¬†This little guy will be in my prayers.

‘Twas the Night Before School Starts…

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I am starting this blog the night before I begin my second year of teaching.  I will be teaching 6th grade Language Arts and 8th grade US History at a new school in a new district.  Tomorrow.

I was trying to remember my first day of school last year, but it’s mostly a blur. ¬†I dressed up and tried to look professional and stern. ¬†I showed a PowerPoint presentation about the school behavior policy in which I spelled the principal’s name wrong. ¬†A brave student politely corrected me just minutes before Mr. Eastman (I mean Easton!) poked his head in my door, presumably to make sure I wasn’t crying in a corner.

I told the students about myself and I learned about them when they made timelines of their 13-year lives.  I grew to love those kiddos so much and I miss my first group of 8th graders.  I truly hope that they all have a wonderful freshman year as I move on to another crew of fidgety, awkward, amazing middle school students.

Everyone keeps asking me if I’m ready for tomorrow. ¬†I’m not. ¬†My computer isn’t set up, I don’t have a functioning printer, I haven’t made friends with the new copy machine yet. ¬†But I can’t wait to meet my new students. ¬†We will be flexible and patient and begin to learn about each other. ¬†I will try to be stern like I always do, but I’m sure I’ll break into a grin as soon as I see their round, nervous faces.

I wonder if they are as excited as I am…