Thursday, January 20, 2011

Be careful little mouths what you say...

There's a song I sang growing up.  It is called "Be Careful Little Eyes What You See," and it goes through verses about ears, mouth, feet, hands. 

I had a conversation today with a colleague that brought this song to mind. She is struggling with some students talking back to her.  We ended up going back to how she has talked to the kids and how that might affect how they talk back to her.  We're working with sixth graders here, so respect is earned and lost from them quickly.

A few years ago, I was accused by some students for calling them stupid.  I never directly called any of them stupid.  I did, however, state to the class, "If you don't know your math facts this year, you will struggle." 

It was twisted in their mind that I said, " Sally, you are stupid if you don't know your math facts."  Now this incident was clearly  blown out of proportion, and what I said was a true statement.  If you get to 6th grade and are still relying on your multiplication chart, things like simplifying fractions, finding common denominators, and long division will be a struggle.  But...

It just brings back to mind that when working with adolescents, we need to be careful what we say.  We need to be careful about the tone we use.  Their young, developing minds sometimes don't hear 100% of the things we say.  Sometimes they hear things incorrectly.  If we utter the word, "crap," sirens go off in their heads.  They are prone to hearing generalizations and feeling like they are stated directly at them.  

I've stated before that teaching is personal.  Sometimes we teachers can take things a little too personally and go off.  We must be careful about this.  We are professionals.  We must speak and act like professionals.

Do you have an experience where you needed to be more careful with your words in the classroom?  What are some tips you would have for teachers who let their emotions get the best of them?


  1. I once told a very bright 6th grader that he was at serious risk of becoming 'mediocre'.It was only when he made a speech many years later at my 50th birthday party that I realised he had 'heard' that as me saying he WAS mediocre. Given that he spent the next few years proving to me that he wasn't at all mediocre and we are still good friends now, it wasn't all bad but it did make me realise I should choose my words and phrasing more carefully with middle year's kids.

  2. @kwaussie Thank you for sharing your story. It is neat that a misunderstanding of words pushed him to become better.

  3. I've been training in cognitive coaching and it has really taught me so much. Last week we learned about the 5 categories of feedback and how we need to focus our feedback on giving data and asking mediative questions. I've been practicing with my own girls and it is so transformative! Here's an example: I am always fighting with my girls to clean their rooms. Rather than telling them to clean their rooms, I say something like: You have several piles of laundry on your bedroom floor. (data) What might be some consequences of not putting them in the hamper? When they realize the authentic consequence is that they won't have clean clothes, they get the piles to the hamper and I no longer have to nag. I shared this information with my formative assessment PLC at our PD today and am anxious to hear how it works for them in their classrooms.

  4. @LeeAnn That's a great way to go about it. Instead of nagging students about their about what the effects of not doing it will be.

    Have you ever read the book Teach with Love and Logic? I liked the approach because it's about options and not demands.

  5. I haven't read the book, but I've watched some PBS shows about it. I've been thinking about a blog post about the language we use with children. Three of my favorite resources are Faber and Mazlish: How to talk so kids can learn; Peter Johnston's Choice Words; and Paula Denton's The Power of Our Words.

  6. My name is Miles Bubbett and I'm a student at the University of South Alabama who is about to obtain filed experience for the first time. Issues like this cross my mind often, and I'm somewhat nervous about saying something wrong. I will hopefully be in an elementary class and I'm really going to be conscious of what I say and how I say it. If you have any advice for someone who is just starting education classes in college I would love to hear it!
    One of my classes is encouraging the use of blogs and it's all new to me. I have created one at and my class blog is I'll be summarizing things I gleam from your blog with posts on mine, and anything you have to say would be much appreciated!

  7. @LeeAnn - I will have to be on the lookout for those books!

    @Miles Welcome to the world of education. I hope your first field experience goes well. My biggest advice is to be purposeful in what you say. Some days in the classroom can be long and frustrating. Other days can be wonderfully rewarding. Keep the wonderfully rewarding days in the front of your mind and speak to your students with purpose.

  8. Hi, my name is Stephanie Hogue and I am a new transfer student at the University of South Alabama. I have been working on an Elementary Education degree over the past three years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.I am just now taking my first education class, however; I do think quite often about what it takes to teach elementary students. I am still very nervous, but hopefull that I will learn everything that I can to be as good as possible. I have a five year old, and believe me, she notices every word that she hears, and she sometimes interprets it so far from what it actually means. It was great reading your blog and being reminded of how careful we must be.

  9. @Stephanie
    Thank you so much for your comment! I'm sure you will be a wonderful teacher. Like I said to Miles, just work to be purposeful in what you say.

  10. Hi Ms. Goerend,

    My name is Jessica Brown and I am also a student from the University of South Alabama. I am in my early field experience for elementary education and I am finding that your post is so right. You bring up such a good point of how students can interpret teachers' meanings in completely different ways than they were intended.

    I am not a teacher yet, but I have heard children say things about an event that aren't necessarily the same as how it happened. For example, I heard a teacher tell two first grade boys to stop "fooling around" when they were standing in line. One of the boys then told his teacher about someone he knows who likes to "fool around." They were two different meanings, but the student didn't know that. He had apparently overheard someone else say that before.

    After reading your blog post, I am realizing that this is probably more common than I thought. Thank you for pointing this out. I know that I will be watching what I say and how I word things more carefully now.

    If you have anymore pointers for an education newbie please feel free to visit my blog. I would appreciate your words of wisdom. Thank you again.

    Jessica Brown
    EDM310 Student
    University of South Alabama