“The devil made bad words!”
The memory is clear in my mind as I think about the little girl explaining to her classmates what she had been taught about inappropriate language. “You’re not supposed to say those words. The devil made bad words!”
That year, this seemed to be an ongoing topic of conversation in the classroom as many of my children had been bringing “life experience” into our community. They were repeating information that had been learned from their big brother, big sister, mom and dad. You name it. If they heard it, they attempted to say it.
No example sticks out further in my mind than that of one of my students that shall remain anonymous. I remember as I was teaching math, turning around and seeing a table full of students chuckling about something that this student had said. He was laughing hysterically and I just knew that it couldn’t be good.
This child had quite the reputation for choosing the wrong things to do and say in the classroom. If ever any student brought life experience into the room, it was this little boy. Let’s just say that he had no filter, something that I learned quickly at the beginning of the year.
I remember walking up to him after seeing a table full of children chuckling and asking him what had just happened. “Nothing,” he replied, “I didn’t say anything.” Red flag!
I asked him to walk over to the carpet so that we could talk together. He followed me reluctantly to the carpet. As he approached me, the conversation went a little something like this:
Me: “What did you say in front of your friends?”
Student: “I didn’t say anything.” *tears start to fall*
I knew without a doubt that something had been said.
Me: “If you could say it in front of your friends, you can say it in my ear.”
Ever had one of those moments looking back where you know that you should have just let something go but you couldn’t bring yourself to do it? Well, this quickly turned into one of those moments.
Student: “I, I, I said…”
At this point time was going a little slower for me. I was remembering back to my student teaching days when students would say, “He said the f word.” After questioning, I would find out that the forbidden word was fart. So in my mind, all I could think was that this situation would be the same. After all, my little innocent first grader would NEVER say something so inappropriate in my presence. Right? …. Wrong.
As I waited, what came next caught me completely off-guard.
He leaned over to my ear and in his sweet little, innocent, high-pitched voice said a word that would make a sailor’s mother blush.
My immediate reaction was, “What did you just say?”
I quickly fixed the error. “No… Wait…Stop…No more!” They were the only words that I could scramble to get out of my mouth to protect everyone involved from experiencing this train wreck again.
After composing myself, I asked him where he had heard this word. “From ____, he replied.” He was another student in my classroom. I quickly asked the student to come to the carpet.
Me: “Did you just tell ______ to say an inappropriate word?”
Student #2: “I didn’t tell him to say that word, I just said *****.”
Right before me, I had just witnessed two of my sweet little first grade students drop very adult words effortlessly, like they were reciting from a highly inappropriate retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.
I explained to the students, “I don’t use those words and I’m not going to accept you using those words either.”
The students looked at me with saddened expressions and quietly said, “Yes sir.”
The day had to end in sending the children to the administration. I thought it would be helpful if they heard the same message from a principal.
After it was all over, the whole experience got me thinking about the background knowledge that all of our students have when entering our classrooms. They come into our rooms having endured a wide range of life experiences. It is up to us to weed through the gardens of their lives and find the good and the bad.
These kids will not always come to us as a freshly watered garden. Often times, we will get the un-turned soil full of thistles and weeds. The good news is that this will present us with the best of opportunities to grow as a person and strengthen our craft.
We have the opportunity throughout the year to help our children remove the weeds and thorns from their lives. The unwelcome life experiences that they have endured can be exchanged for something better!
Not only can we help them remove these areas in their lives, we can teach them how to do it themselves. This is critical if we ever want our students to be able to live a passion-filled and exciting life on their own.
This process cannot be completed overnight. It is something that takes time and effort. Every bit of the time and effort involved is worth it when you get to see the end result. So what is the end result?
The unturned soil that contained the thistles and weeds, after time and work, can turn into the most beautiful landscape full of rich colors and aromas that you have ever seen.
All that is needed to make this change is a gardener that can see the potential in the bare landscape. Will you be that gardener for your students today?