My son came home from school yesterday asking me “Mom, is it illegal for a teacher to call their students losers?”
Two years ago, a colleague of mine walked down a middle-school hallway and heard a teacher scream at a class “you are all so stupid!”
In 1981, I sat in a classroom of 12 bright students who had been hand-picked to be in an Honors Chemistry class while the teacher told us all how unworthy we were, how worthless our thoughts were and that she was going to save us from our ignorance.
In 2000, I visited with a college professor of Biology in her office at her request where she said “Elaine, you would make a fantastic science teacher.” I had not considered even enjoying science after 1981 and this revelation changed my life, making me mourn the loss of 19 years of what could have been a life filled with science.
In 2006, I sent a note to the parents of one of my students, who I had had for three years straight (Biology, Chemistry, and an elective science), that said “Your son has a scientific mind. He should consider a career in engineering.” This student, who had simply not cared about science during his freshman and sophomore years, finally started caring after that note and ended up applying to engineering colleges during his senior year.
I listened to a speaker on Wednesday talk about how she had made the decision to become an engineer. She had a teacher at a community college pull her aside and ask her if she had ever thought about engineering as a career. She had not. Now she is a manager at a little global company you might have heard of – Texas Instruments – where hundreds of employees answer to her.
I’m going to make a statement that is not supported by my diligent research – it is just a speculation on my part:
The words of a teacher have more power than any other unrelated individual in a child’s life.
If a teacher, even sarcastically, tells their students they are losers, some of them will believe her. If a teacher tells a student they need to accept the fact that they will always have to flip burgers at a fast-food restaurant, many of those students will believe him. If a teacher tells a student they are capable of amazing things, some of them will do amazing things.
Please choose your words carefully in your classroom. If you say something and see that young face reflect the negativity in your words, correct it immediately. Look for things that will instill that spark in your students’ eyes. Give them hope that they can make a difference in the outcome of their own lives.
Don’t call them losers. It isn’t illegal – it is just wrong.