It's amazing the power of words. Never underestimate them. As a teacher, I have the power to build up or tear down - all with the power of my words. I hope fellow educators realize this. We all should realize the power our words have.
Here is a journal entry from my time with the Writing Project:
This morning’s discussion with the jigsaw articles, especially “Helping African American Males Reach Their Potential” was so powerful. I don’t know if it was the topic or that we initiated the discussion rather than the facilitators or what but it was the most lively and interesting discussion all week!
This is the type of environment I love and thrive in: passionate, heated, opinionated exchange of dialog. I, like the author, am so connected to the topic of African American male achievement. Not only do I teach African American males, I have two at home. Making sure they live up to their potential and achieve is a constant topic in our home.
They are in a positive light: surrounded by examples of academic success; two parental figures in the home both with college degrees, middle class environment; exposure to a variety of elements conducive to the academic world including travel, music, theater; high expectations with the support to achieve them; positive adult support structure. And still we worry about them academically and their future. We fully realize that we may have to pay for High School to ensure they have the best learning experience to make them competitive for college.
Then I think about my students who don’t have nearly as many resources as my children. As somone said during our discussion, I fight even harder for them.
Which takes me to the idea of expectations. I’m still bothered by the idea of “at least”. They are only two little, one-syllable words, yet they speak volumes. To me, you lower anything you put them in front of.
At least you’re off the streets.
At least you’re not in jail.
At least you go to school.
At least you went to college.
At least implies that there’s no more to do – or if you do achieve more it’s “gravy”. The expectation implied by at least is that you weren’t supposed to make it to where you are, the thing you put behind those two words. What power we yield with those two words. You have the power to knock someone down, to crush their dreams, to stifle their motivation. You’ve taken away what they are supposed to do or what you expect them to do. You are saying, “I expected you to do less so at least you are doing the minimal above that expectation.”
At least; the minimal.
I expected you to end up in the streets – at least you're not.
I expected you to be in jail – at least you’re not.
I expected you to drop out of school – at least you did not.
I expected you to never make it to college – at least you did that.