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A Teacher's Words Can Stick With a Student Forever - Choose Wisely

04/23/2014 12:34 EDT | Updated 06/23/2014 05:59 EDT

"You'll never amount to anything. You'll never be much. You're a problem child."

So he was told.

And I had all but forgotten when she reminded me yet again, as we were talking just the other day, about the cruelty of words and how shattering they can be when ill-spoken; when hastily proffered; when handed over, flung without any thought or consideration to the one receiving those words.

And how excruciating, how devastating when those words are held out to a child, a teenager: as evidence of their failings, flaws and weaknesses. As evidence of their shortcomings. When spoken as a statement to their individual worth. A testimony, if you will, to their person-hood. And when these words of shame are spoken by a teacher, no less, the damage they inflict is often irreparable.

"You'll never amount to anything. You'll never be much. You're a problem child."

Those words -- they have still, at times, been spoken.

And he'll never forget those words, no matter how much time and space come between. She'll always remember. For they are there. Forever imprinted in his memory, in her memory. Impressed on his subconscious and thus filtered in and out through his more aware consciousness in the here and now. She's trouble -- or so she thinks -- and so she'll spend the rest of her days either seeking to live up to that reputation or finding a way to prove them wrong.

It's how the story goes.

And to those students dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties and fears about who they are and what they might become, this is either a death sentence or a fire lit beneath them. A motivation or a deterrent.

It's pivotal.

This piece of writing I've composed, it is not a reprimand to students -- goodness knows there are enough of those out there to fill a book. This is a reminder to those of us as teachers to choose our words carefully before we speak them. We can never get those words back again. This is a memo to those of us who educate to watch our collective tongues -- carefully; To form our opinions with awareness to those around us; To say what needs to be said, but to do so respectfully -- with dignity, in honour of the life that stands before us. For all life is worth that at the very least. It is worth a semblance of regard, out of respect, if nothing else, to the person and all those others they represent -- the parents, family and friends.

A person is not an island. And words have a ripple effect. Do not think they will fall like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. They will be carried away on the waters and they will oft be repeated. And never forgotten. Do not offer words without thought to what message those words are truly conveying. Words can have more than one meaning. And what we think we are saying lightly can be taken heavily by the hearer, and buried deep within.

This is a message to we who are adults -- we are the forerunners. We have been there before. We know the pain of derision, the wound that is a sarcastic comment spoken in scorn. We remember. And so, we who know better must live better. We must watch what we say and say it with care. There are others listening and believing what we say -- taking it to heart. Living up to it, the full potential of those words.

"You'll never amount to anything. You'll never be much. You're a problem child."

To that one who has had these words tossed carelessly in your direction, let me be the one to stand up and boldly say:

You are more than the sum of one man or woman's opinion. You are more than one person's point of view. You are capable. You are able. You are competent. You don't have to live down, stoop low to anyone's minimal expectations of who they think you've been destined to be. Prove them wrong. Be more. Do more. Live for more. Aim higher, reach farther. Be inspired to make the change you need to make so as to become the person you were born to be. It's in you.

You can do this. Be the person you were made to be. The sky's the limit. And you're full of potential and possibility.

You're amazing, I know you are.

Believe it.

I do.