Friday, May 22, 2009

Choice Words

My daughter's fourth grade teacher gave out customized awards to each student this week. She read each award aloud, and the students had to match it with the winner. Emily won the "Future Novelist" award. She was "tickled", in her words, to receive it. It meant more to her than any of the fancier awards given out on Honors Day.
I have been thinking about her reaction ever since. This was a certificate printed from the computer. No gold seal, no fancy calligraphy. What made it so special to her? I know the answer. The power of that award has everything to do with the power of words. Her teacher took the time to think about each child's strengths. She took the time to think of just the right words to use on the certificates. Those words, because they are in print, cannot be taken away. Those words are affirmations.
But words can have the opposite effect, as well. As teachers (and parents and citizens of the planet), we need to choose our words carefully. Words can build others up, or tear them down. We must choose wisely. It reminds me of this poem.
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words could never hurt me.
And this I knew was surely true
And truth could not desert me.
But now I know it is not so.
I've changed the latter part.
For sticks and stones can break the bones,
But words can break the heart.
Sticks and stones may break the bones,
But leave the spirit whole.
But simple words can break the heart
Or silence crush the soul.
--Herb Warren
This poem can be found in a great little book called Choice Words. It's worth a read, if you get a chance this summer. It is perfect for any teacher who wishes to be more conscious of the many ways their language helps children acquire literacy skills and view the world, their peers, and themselves in new ways.