This I Believe

The power of words is palpable. A single compliment can lift someone up, give confidence, and forge a positive relationship. Conversely, a single insult can destroy self-esteem and weigh heavily on a person’s psyche. As educators, we have many interactions with students on a daily basis. We should strive to make them as positive as possible. It could save a life.

“You are always in character on stage, I love it.” Those are possibly the ten most important words that I have uttered in my teaching career. I had a student who was not only in my classroom, but my homeroom, and also a part of the musical I directed. She was a very shy student who was not apt to ask questions. After paying her this compliment on the stage, we developed a deeper student-teacher relationship in the classroom. I began to understand that if she stopped working, she actually had a question and I needed to stop at her desk. She would share her interests — she drawing, music, and reading. Because of this relationship, she was able to perform very well in Algebra 1 that year, and gain more confidence in her life.

The next year, she had a substantially larger role in the musical. Although she had a different math teacher, she would come to me for math help during study hall. She began to open up about her life. She was struggling with parts of her life that were changing. She started to show signs of depression. She wouldn’t eat at home, so during homeroom I would put crackers on her desk for her to eat. She had withdrawn from her friends, and expressed that she had had suicidal thoughts. I met with her and the school counselor. We made a plan that if she had no one to talk to about these thoughts, she should contact me using an app we had used to communicate during the musical.

One Tuesday evening, she contacted me and explained that she had just taken a bunch of pain killers. She regretted it and didn’t know what to do. I contacted the sheriff’s department. Luckily, they got to her in time, and took her to the hospital. They set up counseling for her, and she is now feeling more in control. She later wrote me a letter which explained that the reason she started to open up to me came back to that small compliment I had given her the year before in rehearsal. I didn’t even remember expressing that thought to her, but it made her feel safe enough to reach out when she needed help.

If one compliment can make a difference in one young lady’s life, then who knows what we say on a daily basis to students that can make a difference to them. The words we use with our students matter. They have the power to open a student up, making them more apt to learn. Or they can completely shut a student down. The power of words is palpable.