Every individual has been impacted at some point by cruel words. On a personal note, I fell and broke my front teeth when I was 9 years old (they had finally grown in after a year of NO front teeth!) The break was in the center, and my front teeth had a missing section that looked like an inverted V. Some kids called them "Dracula" teeth, and I became so extremely self-conscious of my teeth that for years thereafter, I NEVER would smile to show my broken teeth. I eventually had my front teeth filed straight across, and then capped years later, but I will never forget the pain of those mean words. I also wore thick glasses beginning at age 6, and I was the victim of all of the standard barbs like "four eyes" and "Coke bottle bottoms for glasses." The lenses of my glasses were so heavy that they would break in half while sitting on my nose! (this was years before the featherweight lenses came to be- my lenses were made from real glass.) My prescription changed so rapidly, that my parents had to spend money (which they did not have) to buy new glasses for me several times a year, so I also heard negatives about my vision (and lack thereof) from my two brothers and my parents. Although poor vision is not the same as other physical flaws, I still remember the words about my glasses. No one was ever happier to buy contact lenses at age 16!
Besides taunts about physical attributes, mean words about family, brainpower, monetary standing, etc., can be extremely hurtful. Aside from parents, I think teachers have the singular largest ability to impact students with negative or positive words. For example, I know a man whose 9th grade guidance counselor told him he would "Never amount to anything." Although the man is now in his 50's and a successful businessman worth several million dollars, he has never forgotten those painful words. To assuage his own ego and to validate his success, he invites the guidance counselor to lunch once a year, every year.
Even in the classroom, teachers have tremendous power to harm or heal with their words. When I was teaching, I preferred to dignify incorrect responses with words like "You are almost at the correct answer. Do you want to continue, or ask a friend to help with this answer?", rather than "Are you kidding me? Can't you read?" or something equally as derogatory. I endured classroom teachers when I was in school who delighted in demeaning answers provide by students. I was fairly good at school, which is why I became a teacher, but I can still remember some of the degrading remarks some of my teachers spoke to my classmates. Just think- I was so impacted by my classmates' humiliation by mean teacher words, that I remember the teachers, situations, and words perfectly all these years later, and I was not even the intended victim. Words are SO powerful.
In closing, teachers have a great capacity to hurt or heal and to encourage or disparage with their words. Choose yours carefully, because your words will be etched on the hearts of your students for many years to come.
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