I think, in a way, we are very spoiled. The world is at our fingertips. We can see amazing things whenever we want. Some of the amazing things we see are real, some of them might even be staged (“reality TV”), but, nonetheless, in the moment at least, what we are watching seems real, amazing, other worldly, and significant.
(Author’s note – I changed the names of the student in this true story.)
Way back, a long time ago, when I was a teacher, I had a student named Beth. One day in class, during a discussion about Pre-Columbian America, Beth shared that she was of Native American decent. That prompted me to bestow a nickname on her. (I gave happy nicknames to lots of kids.) From that day forward Beth was “A Shining Light in the Sky.” Beth loved the nickname. She came to class every day with a warm smile.
Beth was one of those kids who was easy to like as a teacher: She was happy, enthusiastic, a hard worker, and team player. A model student, Beth was the type of kid who makes teaching a joy.
(The following passage was included as part of the monthly newsletter that I send out to the parents of my school community.)
It is no secret that I enjoy sports, mostly baseball, and that I have always been a big fan of the New York Yankees. There is something about baseball that resonates with me. The ebb and flow of the game, the simplicity, the day-to-day consistency… Like a good friend, from April through September, baseball is a constant companion. I love it.
One of the big stories that has come out of this year’s baseball season has been the fact that a rookie on the New York Yankees, a certain Aaron Judge, recently set the record for the most home runs ever hit in one’s first season. No player had ever hit 50 home runs as a rookie until Aaron Judge accomplished that feat. Amazing.
Often times we say, “I can’t do that” or “I’m not good at that.” (I am as guilty of this as anyone. There’s a lot I sometimes believe I can’t do.)
When we say the words, “I can’t,” we are limiting ourselves. As a result, I believe that some of the most damaging words in our language are “I can’t.”
When we say we can’t, we make our own lives poorer – not richer. When we say we can’t, we eliminate the possibilities and the learning that comes with and from new experiences. When we say we can’t, our world becomes smaller, our interests become fewer, and we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn more about ourselves.
The words we use matter, always.
When we offer kindness, love, and support, we build people up.
When we are critical, or unkind, or mean, the words we deliver bring people down.
On the pages of my blog, in educational journals, and in other forums, I have often shared stories of how kind words make a positive difference. It happens all of the time.
When I run races, especially marathons, the words of encouragement shouted from the spectators makes an absolute difference in my mental state and my performance. When people call out, “You look great” or “You can do it!” I believe them – sincerely and absolutely. Positive words from people I don’t know and will never meet have helped me in each of my twenty marathons.
Just yesterday I was playing softball in the league I compete in. I was fortunate, I had a good day. It seemed that every ball hit to me at shortstop, I handled cleanly. Each time, my teammates shouted, “Great play” or “Paul, you’re doing super today.” The confidence from my teammates helped to make me have more confidence in myself, and, as a result, I played better.
Words matter. Absolutely. Always.
“I sometimes sit in awe of the tremendous power a teacher possesses – the tremendous impact that a teacher has on a child’s self-image now – and in the future. A teacher can use his autograph, the imprint he leaves on a child, to change a life. The positive words teachers leave inspire children to work harder, to give more, and to always strive to be their better selves.”
And, while I sincerely believe all of that to be true, I think, sometimes, we forget the impact we have on others and the simple fact that our own words matter. It’s easy to point out how other people have brought us up or down, but it’s more difficult to examine when we have a similar impact on others. (After all, I didn’t say to my teammates, “Keep telling me how good I am, it’ll make me even better.” All I did was smile and give high fives and fist bumps – and hope that I would continue to catch everything hit my way. Similarly, in a marathon, I don’t stop when people cheer for me. I never go back to the spectator to say, “Your kind words are helping me through the race.”)
But, sometimes, out of the blue, a word is said, a card arrives in the mail, or an e-mail comes through that reminds us of our impact on others. Again, I think this is especially true for teachers and other educators because our words impact on the people who are the future. By providing support, kindness, affirmation, and even love, educators can help to shape a positive world and a positive future.
I was reminded of this fact just the other day when I received the following message in my e-mail:
I taught this student over three years ago. It wasn’t yesterday…
But my words mattered.
And it was only eight words. Eight. That’s all I wrote. I didn’t write a paragraph. I didn’t write even ten words. I wrote eight. And yet, those words made a difference to this former student. A huge difference. In a way, I helped to change a life. In a bigger way, as this former student becomes a teacher who hopefully spreads kindness and a positive message, those eight words will influence many more people.
This is the power that good can bring. It is the impact of kindness. It is what truly matters.
Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
As educators, our biggest job is helping our students learn to believe in themselves. Our job is to build up others. We need to encourage. We need to support. We need to set the highest standards. We need to be kind. We need to love…
These are the simple elements that truly make a difference.
As we plan lessons, and programs…
As we design assessment tools and grading formulas…
As we create curriculum and input data into on-line programs…
We must never forget that our most important job as educators is to reach the hearts of our students. We must bring passion to our classrooms. We must look to the good.
And we must never forget that our words matter – and as such, we must use them, today and every day, to build others up in a meaningful way.
(This passage comes from my upcoming book of essays, “Impossible is an Illusion” which will be published by Ravenswood Publishers in May 2017.)
There is a Latin phrase that reads, “Crede quod habes, et habes.”
This can be translated as, “Believe that you have it, and you have it.”
January 21 will be here soon. It’s a big day for some people. Many famous people were born on January 21.
Charles V, King of France, born on January 21, in 1338
Ethan Allen, a famous American general, in 1738
John C. Fremont, “The Pathfinder,” in 1813
Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate General, in 1824
Christian Dior, fashion designer, in 1905 Continue reading “Birthdays”
I will begin this post by stating an obvious point:
Usain Bolt is an amazing sprinter.
As a runner who (more and more) plods through training runs and marathons, I am in awe of Usain Bolt’s speed, grace, and magnificence.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I shared direct feedback, in the actual words of students, regarding the characteristics that compelled them to nominate individual teachers for a Teacher of the Week program that I experimented with about ten years ago.
It is my contention that we can learn the most about what matters in the classroom by taking the time to listen to students – and by valuing their feedback. Students live in the world of today. Their time is now. What takes place in the classroom on a daily basis impacts them directly. Students know what good teachers look like. We just have to take the time to listen.