The Power of Words

We’ve all been there.  Conferences are going great until that one thorn in your side, that one kid that you’d soon rather kick out of your class than teach, arrives with his mom, dad, or even both to sit across from you.  Mom might have a pregnant belly ready to burst, a two-year-old on her hip, twin four-year-olds romping through the gymnasium, and a sheepish smile on her face that says Lord, please help me!  Dad on the other hand has a stern, don’t-mess-with-me look plastered on his face that tells you he’s already heard how rotten his son is five or six times.

And finally you have little Joey, your gem of a student that just that very day decided it would be a fun idea to try to make fart noises to disturb Sara Sweet Student that happens to sit next to him.  You put Sara there for one sole purpose: to provide a positive influence on Joey.  That philosophy has been officially shot to you-know-what, and sweet little Sara is now giving you looks that say I will PAY YOU to switch my seat!  As a matter of fact, Sara’s parents just left your table, and Sara’s dad had leaned in at the end requesting a seat switch on behalf of his perfect daughter who could do no wrong, giving you a wink.

What do you say to this kid’s parents?  You don’t want to hide the truth, but you likewise know that words stick with people.  As Hawk Nelson’s lyrics sing out, “Words can build you up/ words can bring you down/ start a fire in your heart/ or put it out.”  What words will you choose at this moment?  Especially with Joey grinning at you from across the table?  The real question is how would God want you to respond?  If you search the Bible for the perfect passage to give light to this situation, you might come across any one of the following verses:

  1. Philippians 4: 8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
  2. Proverbs 18: 21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
  3. Ephesians 4: 29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
  4. Proverbs 16: 24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
  5. Proverbs 15: 4 says, “Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush the spirit.”

Son of a gun!  Are you kidding me?  So, God is telling me I actually have to be kind here?  God is telling me I have to think of something nice to say about Joey?  We’re talking about the same kid who chucked his shoe at the sub one day just to see what her reaction would be … the same kid whose definition of hyperbole was saying, “You’re an amazing teacher!” … the same kid who wore that shirt that read Cool story, babe.  Now go make me a sandwich?  Yikes.  We had better practice this a little, eh?  You see, you don’t want to sugarcoat the entire conversation; however, you want to give the parents hope when there is none.  You want your words to bring life, not crush the spirit.  But how do we do that as educators?  Consider the following double speak below as a way to communicate with parents of unruly kids.

  • What you want to say: “Your son is makes inappropriate jokes that disturb the class.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son brings a clever wit to class.”
  • What you want to say: “Your son disrupts class on a daily basis by blurting out too much.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son participates regularly in my classroom.”
  • What you want to say: “Your son is simply too loud.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son brings life to the classroom.”
  • What you want to say: “Your son hasn’t turned in a homework assignment since the Regan administration.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son needs to focus on being more diligent in doing homework.”
  • What you want to say: “Your son has been in ISS five times over the past three weeks.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son has had many quality conversations with our principal.”
  • What you want to say: “Your son’s handwriting reminds me of Egyptian hieroglyphics.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son needs to slow down a bit when writing in class.”
  • What you want to say: “Your son is out of his seat more than he’s in his seat.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son does an excellent job of getting his energy out in class.”
  • What you want to say: “Your son is late to class every day.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son struggles with arriving on time.  Maybe he could carry his books so he doesn’t have to make that extra trip to his locker?”
  • What you want to say: “Your son should be forbidden to ever reproduce.”  What God tells you to say: “Your son … um … your son really … um … well, he’s got a great smile!”

Alright, you get the point.  The point is that as Christian teachers we can be honest without being rude.  We can be encouraging without being disrespectful.  We can give parents a glimpse of hope without crushing their spirit.  Any stinker student out there has potential in some area.  Find that area and compliment the kid on it.  This could be anything from handwriting skills to the ability to lighten the mood of the class with humor.  God calls us all to see the good in everything, and that certainly does not include those Joeys that invade our classrooms.  Should we sugarcoat everything to the point of lying?  Certainly not, but we can soften the blow of our words by empathizing, showing compassion, and creating hope for these parents.  Remember that as we go through conferences this week.  Think of what you want to say beforehand.  Show these parents that you have a heart.  If we get the parents on our side, it does indeed make our job as educators easier as support from home begins to filter in the picture.  May God bless all your conferences this week!

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