As I drove to work today, the first day of school, I heard the most amazing thing. A woman was talking about how she was asked to speak at a teacher meeting for a district with over 1,000 teachers. She said that this frightened her because she had had such bad experiences with teachers
She said what she wanted to tell those teachers is that they hold the power of life and death in their tongue.
In my car, I fought back tears. How often have I said something off the cuff to a student, without even meaning it, that I will not remember tomorrow but will impact their future for years to come – either breathing life into them, or leaving death ringing in their ears. The power of my words have real meaning to them. I will have thousands of students over my career, but they will have just a few dozen teachers and each one can make a huge impact. What’s more, the student that gets under my skin the most, the one that I am most likely to lash out at with a biting remark when they challenge my authority or make a stupid decision, that student is the one in the most desperate need of life. They have probably heard teachers telling them how bad they are and what a failure they are for a decade. How many teachers take the time to give them a reason to improve themselves?
The responsibility is humbling.
I know of one instance when I definitely said the wrong thing. At a pre-show cast meeting, what we call “greenroom,” I said something that I meant as a joke and didn’t think the student would take seriously. Six months later, she told me that after the meeting, she went in the dressing room and cried. I apologized profusely. I told her that I really value her as a student and that I never meant to hurt her feelings. However, the damage had been done.
So, my goal this year is to choose life. However frustrating the days get, I can choose grace, I can choose patience, I can choose understanding, I can choose to give them words of life and not death.