Words Matter

“Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

This old adage could not be further from the truth. My mom told me this. I used to tell my children this. Then I stopped because it is not truthful. Not. One. Bit.

Words do hurt. Words matter. 

Our children are our precious gifts. We wake up every morning as their mom and pray we do right by them. We think about our actions, and we think about our words. We do not say hate or stupid in this house for a reason. We spend our days and nights trying to help our children become confident, resourceful, kind people.

We are their parents. It is our job. It is our pleasure. 

As children get older, they spend 35-40 hours a week in school. Parents rely on teachers to educate our children, but to also provide a safe, nurturing, learning environment. From ages 5 to 18, our children will spend more time a year with teachers than with their parents. That is a fact.  And now that the school year is over and we have time for more conversation, it’s become apparent how much impact the words that are spoken during the school year have on our children.

As a former educator, I am here to tell all the teachers, “Your words matter.”

I understand from my own experience, teaching is the hardest job. It is thankless. It is stressful. Your days are filled with students that range from exceptionally amazing to exceptionally challenging. It is my true understanding of what you go through each day, as well as my role as a mother, that allow me to tell you YOUR WORDS MATTER.

When you tell a child in a frustrated tone they took too long in the bathroom, you send the message that using the bathroom is a nuisance. It causes other children to become anxious when they need to use the restroom, and the child who took too long, well, forget about that student ever taking too long again. They will do whatever it takes to not anger you, even if that means having an accident, using poor hygiene, or worse – contracting a UTI or becoming constipated all because your words caused fear. What happened to asking the student if they feel okay when they return from the restroom, and if they feel fine, maybe just maybe you can say nicely, “You took a bit of time, I was worried.” Your words matter.

When you call out only the As on a test, your message is heard loud and clear – As are awesome, and everything else is not. I am sure this was not your intention, but your words said otherwise. The student with two working parents who is alone in his academic career studied as well as he could. Perhaps he would have been proud of that B, but you took that away. The student who is average at best or has a learning disability and worked hard for that C can no longer feel accomplished because your words let her know that her effort was not good enough to be recognized. Students look to you to gain self confidence. When you do not recognize all your students, it crushes dreams. Yes, your words are powerful. Your words matter.

When you call a student a cry baby, you send the message that name calling is okay. You send the message that sharing your emotions is wrong. You create an environment in which students no longer empathize with each other. I cried all the time in school. It was how I showed frustration. What did my teacher say? They told me to use the restroom and wash my face, and then together we could tackle what was upsetting me. Refusing to help students that cry because it is “no longer age appropriate” creates children who actively ignore that same child who cries at a birthday party. No one asks her what is wrong. Instead they tell their moms, “She cries all the time. I don’t want to find out why.” Your words spill over to the weekends. Your words change students’ behaviors. Why? Because you are their role model. Your words matter.

When you have a child call home from class because they cannot behave and you tell them to call their mom because you can no longer deal with them, your words shamed that student. When you remove a child from the classroom consistently because they don’t know how to behave like the rest of the grade, your words tell that student she is bad. I can almost guarantee that child has come home in tears saying you don’t like her and she is bad. Your words create a social divide of children who actively avoid that child. But here’s the thing… No child is bad. Do they make poor choices? Absolutely. It is your job to help engage the learner and find out why they continue to make those choices and how you can set them up for success. Your words matter.

During a parent conference when you, the teacher, tell the parent the child’s issue {dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety, etc.} is not your problem, your words send the message loud and clear that you are not in the classroom to provide emotional support, just academic growth. All students need to feel emotionally safe if you want them to grow academically. Your words matter.

When you tell a child they have asked too many questions and you will no longer help them, you create distress and anxiety among other students. Aren’t we supposed to encourage questioning? But how about instead of publicly embarrassing them, you create a situation where you hand them written directions or tell them you will conference privately when you are finished explaining the lesson to the class. Your words matter.

Do I sound preachy? Yes. Does this sound like I am asking too much? Maybe.

But I have been there. I have been in the trenches of 150+ students a year ranging from gifted to at-risk. I have taught upper class children and children in poverty. They all came to me, their teacher, needing an education and most importantly support. There has never been a child who learned best from a fearful, shaming, embarrassing, or unsupported environment. On the surface your classroom seems orderly and well-managed, but if you dig deeper and ask the students and parents, you will find many hopes and dreams shattered by you, the teacher, who didn’t think before speaking.

I did not become the educator I am today without self reflection and growth. Teachers are some of the most powerful influences in a child’s life.

For the teachers out there that do provide the emotional stability all children need, keep up the great work. You’re an example of what should be. Your willingness to help students shine and feel successful is what makes you one of the best. Your positive words and supportive actions matter too. In fact, they can have the power to undo any negative experience a student has had.  A teacher’s support can carry a student for a lifetime.

It just takes one teacher to make or break a child. 
Teachers, your words matter. 

One Response to Words Matter

  1. Emmanuel P July 16, 2017 at 9:53 pm #

    Michele, I’d just like to say great words for such a great profession that you have been called for. In my mid-thirties, I began questioning large aspects of my life and a lot of the great outcomes and achievements were brought upon because of the great foundation certain teachers had provided. Great words and foundations were given to me by them and I should remind myself to not forget. What some do forget and you pointed out, is that at times, the words that aren’t said can be just as strong to a child. In my opinion, a happy child is a great one and every chance I can have to learn from a mom, dad or a teacher on extending that knowledge and happiness is greatly appreciated!

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