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What Are We Saying?

Words are everywhere. We read them. We write them. We speak them. We hear them. They permeate almost every single part of our existence. We even think in words. Words have enormous power. War. Hate. Peace. Love. Words are our ideas and our hopes and our dreams. With this much power, I don’t feel like any of us really watch what we say. We may edit and perfect our written words, but we can’t do that when we open our mouths. We don’t watch our own spoken words. What seeds are we sowing? What ideas are we promoting? Which of our prejudices is visible? Who are we including? What are we saying?what are we sayingThese questions have been on my mind a lot lately. I have been reading a lot of professional development books lately and in one of them, the teacher recounts an event where she said some small, inconsequential comment to a student and changed that student’s life for the better. That student’s parent came to the teacher with tears in their eyes the change was so great. The teacher didn’t even remember saying it. What about the other comments? she asked herself. The ones that did the opposite. Our words have power and our students are listening to everything we say. What are we saying?DialogueI am struggling with this in my block class. We have a new teacher and we have been listening. We are hearing that she thinks she is better than us. My math teacher friends are hearing that they are horrible people. We are hearing that the only way to teach reading is her way. We are hearing that we are doing a disservice to our students and that we cannot possibly understand how hard it is to be an elementary school teacher. We are hearing that already we have failed. We are hearing that our ideas do not count. I don’t think she realizes what has happened because none of us are listening anymore. None of us want to hear that over-used phrase “No offense, but…” We are frustrated to the point where we drop our budding professionalism and quote the new teacher in mocking ways in front of a more experienced teacher. We do not watch our own words. What are we saying? woman speakingHow can I avoid this? I want all of my students to know that I respect them and that I value every word they say. I want them to share their burgeoning ideas with me. I want them to be able to share them with each other. I want a classroom culture of listening and validation of the words that are coming out of our mouths. I do not want to indoctrinate. I do not want to press my ideas on my students. I want them to know that no idea is too wild and that they have voices that are worth listening to. The first step in making a difference is knowing that you have the power to create change. Our words give us that. Yet, I hear myself sometimes and I am worried about what I hear. I do not say “What a wonderful question!” when a little girl is trying to be silly and writes “Why does the word hi mean hi?” I say “I would like a serious question.” I have no real good reason why I said that. I wanted her on task and her question was off topic. Why does hi mean hi? Why didn’t I answer that question? And why did I respond to it the way I did? What am I saying?wordsThe question I pose to all of you is: how do we move forward? How do we make our words count for the things that we want them to count for? Let’s start listening to ourselves. Let’s find out what we are saying.listening

4 comments on “What Are We Saying?

  1. kelseyempfield
    September 25, 2014

    Maggie, this post is beautiful and articulates how important it is as professional educators to be professional in what we say. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  2. Caleb Wiggins
    September 25, 2014

    This is a very hard thing to address. No matter what happens though, we know who we are as people. We know if we are caring, loving, passionate, mad, sad, happy, or anything. No matter what friends, we have control in what we want to try to do. Like the post above, we have control and we can make a difference. Don’t let anyone else tell you different. Be confident within yourselves.

  3. winchell49
    September 26, 2014

    Maggie, you bring many ideas to the table throughout your post. Many of your thoughts have been pending in my mind as well. However, we are all human and I feel we can take something from every individual we meet in our lives. We all have made it this far in our educational career. We all have picked up many do’s and don’ts throughout the process.

  4. Elisabeth Ellington
    September 27, 2014

    So many times I’ve had former students email me, “Remember when you said X to me? That changed my life.” And no, I NEVER remember when I said X. Never. Not once have I ever recalled the so-called life-changing encounter. And yet apparently teachers are having them all the time with students. This week, my son quit football, about 10% his choice and 90% his parents’ choice. He’s a 6th-grader and the high school football coach made a point of finding him and asking him what was going on because “I know you’re not a quitter.” You’re absolutely right! This kid who has survived more than you can imagine is definitely not a quitter. My son was so upset about that one comment. I think I understand what the coach was getting at and why he said that. I’ve probably said exactly such words myself, totally unaware of the damage they were doing, thinking that I was being encouraging. Our words are incredibly powerful. As far as your particular situation: the power differential in a classroom always makes it challenging to speak up. I’m intrigued by your questions about how professionalism plays into this.

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