Classroom windows open to walkways and gentle breezes unwittingly invite conversation into classrooms.
As the spring day yawned to a close, I heard the shrill voice of a mother carry through my window screen. Her piercing tone and harsh words whipped out to flog a little girl trailing steps behind. My heart shivered and ached for the young girl. As an educator, I bear a level of responsibility to be aware of students in crisis situations to advocate for their physical, emotional, and mental safety. Flags raised, I wondered to myself, If this is how the mother speaks to her in public, what happens behind closed doors?
The following school year, the traditionally hectic back-to-school night proved to be more unexpected than ever when that same little girl and her mom walked through my classroom door. I reminded myself that bad days happen to the best of people. Doesn’t everyone deserve a fresh start? With a warm smile and enthusiasm, I greeted the mom and her daughter, my new student.
Typically, my extraordinary level of positivity is contagious, but this mom sucked every ounce of goodness from the room like a kid sucking the remnants of a milkshake through a straw. As she spoke, her daughter’s once excited, beaming-at-her-new-teacher glow shriveled and withered away. Seconds before, a little girl who stood proud began to physically droop. With the mother proclaiming the girl’s every fault, she moved toward her mother, a shadow at her side. After more than a decade teaching in public education, this mother initiated me into a most unwelcome world of cruel criticism and its harmful effects.
Determined, I welcomed an opportunity to speak hope and truth into her young heart, but that proved to be the beginning of more. This mother acted as a tool in the King’s hands. Conviction swept into my heart: What words do I speak to my children? What tone of voice am I using?
I recall moments I carried on about my son’s shortcomings to other adults, not realizing he was within earshot. Without realizing it … caught up in conversation with friends or at the end of the day with my teaching partners, my words forged a deadly trail. Kids intuitively know that words spoken in hushed tones carry significant weight. When we casually expose the shortcomings of our children, trust is broken, and the value of “I love you” and other words of encouragement become questionable. Brokenhearted, I confessed and apologized to my sweet boy for speaking in wrong ways about him and committed to the mindful words I expect him to use when speaking of me within his sphere.
Sharing daily life should be comfortable, but we must be conscientious of our words, particularly regarding our children. How we speak to our children sets the tone for their future. What we say about our children shapes their self-perception. These words etch a track that will last a lifetime. As parents, we must remain vigilant to pour God’s perspective of our children into their hearts by speaking constructively.
Derogatory parents aren’t the only ones that present a challenge to their children. In recent years, I’ve noticed that more parents choose to bring their student into parent/teacher conferences. Sometimes this is out of necessity, but more often, well-intended parents believe this is a means of creating “open and transparent relationships.” The underlying sentiment is, “It’s her business because it’s about her,” and the expectation is for the child to process such experiences and information as an adult. However, we must consider the abilities they possess to effectively process information as we work to instill personal responsibility into these young learners.
As professionals, including classroom teachers, a guidance counselor, a psychologist, and an administrator, met around a conference table to discuss the best way to help one of my struggling learners, the parent walked in with her young learner in tow. “He’ll be fine listening in,” the parent casually stated.
While this is a parental decision, I wondered if the parent considered how difficult it is to gather a mass of brainpower for this one learner. That despite many other needy students, multiple schedules and limited time were set aside for this important learner. Already, each professional made a significant investment in this single learner in preparation for the meeting to come to the aid of this child. This is what educators do. Having taught in three states and five school sites, I know firsthand how deeply educators care for their students and how willing they are to move mountains to help a single student succeed academically and emotionally. Unfortunately, adult conversation quickly shifts out of consideration for young learners because caring professionals know to condense and filter complex information when children are present.
Our hearts’ concerns need to be spoken and discussed in appropriate settings with trusted people. With each situation, we must deliberately choose how information is communicated with young learners. We must evaluate if it’s in their best interest to be present or to receive filtered information within their ability to process. In every instance, we should speak with a heart of hope on a bent knee before the Cross.