Students take teachers’ words to heart

Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2010

By JASON MAYFIELD/Guest Columnist

I read “Wounded by School” by Kirsten Olson, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, and Parker Palmer recently, and if I had my way, the book would be required reading for teachers everywhere.

In “Wounded,” the authors interviewed adults who were hurt by the words or actions of others. Tragically, those others were often teachers.

While I doubt there’s anyone who enters education with the intent to wound anyone, the enthusiasm and energy that greets a new school year can often be forgotten once the first chills of autumn come (so in Alabama, in late October).

Obviously, no one ever responds to every situation in a completely proper and encouraging way, particularly without a good cup of coffee, but the book was scary enough to any caring educator.

I could relate. My junior year, in Honors English, I ran into a teacher I could not please. I can still remember his red “No” out in the margins of my papers. I’m not exactly sure what his “No” meant. I always took it to mean that not only was my argument wrong, but that I was stupid for even trying to write.

Thankfully, I found the opposite of that teacher the following year in my AP English teacher, and her encouragement helped me forget that “No” image that had formed in my mind.

Even at the middle and high school levels, despite what adolescents may tell you, they desperately look for adult role models.

In today’s society, a teacher’s importance in the life of a child is critical and should make every educator consider words carefully.

I tell my sixth grade students the first day of school that I have expectations for them, that I want them to have fun in the classroom and that I love them.

I tell the same thing to my seventh and eighth grade students even though they’ve heard the speech before because I always add the following: “I say this not because I’m assuming you’ve forgotten last year’s speech. This is more for my benefit, to remind myself, and for you to call me out whenever I do something that goes against what I say.”

For all of us who teach, it could do us little harm to re-examine what we say and believe about those we instruct.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted education instructor at Columbiana Middle School.