I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately. All I can do is think of me and I have peace of mind. I’m tired of looking around rooms wondering what I’ve gotta do or who I’m supposed to be. I don’t want to be anything other than me. – I Don’t Want to Be Lyrics by Gavin Degraw
As a child I heard this phrase whenever someone was being bullied: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” And as a child it gave me a sense of control to utter that at another person because I was letting them know that their words had no effect on me. Boy was I delusional.
Those words not only had an effect, but they had a power that unfortunately sometimes determined my choices. More often than not, they made me question my existence, and not in a positive way, because no matter how strong and brave I wanted to be, I was really a scared and vulnerable kid just trying to find her way in life.
Etymology, the study of word origins, is more associated with Spelling Bee participants or Historians versus classroom teachers who don’t teach Language Arts. However, I wish those who were in authority over me had considered the meanings of words when I was told I wasn’t smart enough to be in the upper level classes based on my GPA from 8th grade or that I shouldn’t be hired at my first teaching position because I was considered a slacker in high school.
Some words said by those teachers and counselors were easy to shake off but the ones that were also said by people whose opinions I valued most were the hardest to shake because they were believed to be more true. The battle of not letting someone else’s opinion/description affect you is hard enough without hearing similar things from the people we love, trust, and respect the most. If you hear it enough you begin to believe it. And once you believe it you begin to own it. It becomes convenient to exist in that reality rather than prove to them, and yourself, otherwise.
Actions Can Be Like Words Too
Every day the students come in the building is a new day to either plant or water seeds that can impact the fertile ground known as their self esteem. We can start by getting rid of behavior charts that are posted in the classroom or writing names on the board for behavior punishment. Both of these, in my opinion, place labels on kids that are very hard to remove. Because when other students go home to talk about their day and they mention again how Lil’ Rhonda’s name is on the board again, parents jump into protective mode and encourage their kids to stay away from the troublemaker.
Just like that she will forever be labeled as troublemaker to that classmate. And like an aggressive cancer cell the label spreads. No one likes a troublemaker. No one wants to be around a troublemaker. Can’t be friends with one either. A life defining moment for a primary grade student shouldn’t be made for them. Especially by those entrusted to protect and nurture them 8 hours a day during the school year.
I’ll Just Be Me
We don’t know every student’s story. The students that come into our building are the best and brightest their parents/guardians have to send. They’re “as is models prepped for awesome upgrades” and the best way educators like me can help them reach their potential is by carefully choosing the words said to them both publicly and privately.
Some students may not be told that they’re loved before they come to class, so we have to tell them. A warm sincere smile will speak volumes to a student who needs it. All students’ need is for 1 person to “see” them and help them see themselves. Remind students that a brief moment in time is only as defining as they allow it to be. Choose words and actions that constructively correct behavior as well as guide academic growth. Encourage students to be the best version of themselves while teaching others to accept their “differences” will work miracles if given a chance. I know because it worked for me.