George Lucas Educational Foundation
Teacher Wellness

Charts: The Enormous Power of a Teacher’s Words

November 15, 2016 Updated November 13, 2016

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson, was a pudgy little lady with hair cropped close to her head.  She looks mean in the yellowed class picture near the front of my school days scrapbook.  But I can’t recall a single angry word ever spoken.

I do remember Mrs. Thompson was allergic to chalk.  And I remember her compensating for this disability with charts.  Math charts, writing charts, spelling charts, reading charts...every wall was plastered.  We judged the day simply on the number of charts we had to conquer.

Something in my mastery of the charted standards must have caught Mrs. Thompson’s attention.  One day during math, as the rest of the class copied and solved the math problems from the latest chart, she came to my desk with a reprieve.  She told me that she was impressed with my writing and that I was going to be allowed to write stories instead.  She led me down the hall to Miss Manning’s room (where I had lived my first grade days) and asked if I could borrow the story starter box, a collection of pictures to inspire creative writers. 

I remember writing a story about horses (no clue now about that story’s theme), and I remember Mrs. Thompson gushing as to how wonderful the story was.  From that moment on, I knew that I was a writer, not that I was going to be a writer, but that I already had the ability and that this talent had made a positive impact on another person.

That horse story was written nearly fifty years ago and is long gone now. But the feelings of accomplishment and self-respect ignited by Mrs. Thompson’s recognition of my ability and her encouragement of my efforts continue to burn strong today.

I completed many classes after those days in 1966...learned about nouns, verbs, gerunds and prepositional phrases.  Lots of worksheets, workbooks—even more charts.    But very few of these experiences ever taught me the joy of writing, as did my story days with Mrs. Thompson. 

I doubt that Mrs. Thompson even remembers me.  After 40 years, I can’t be too hopeful!  By now she must be retired...she may even already be in the great teacher lounge in the sky.  But she taught me these two things:

I can write—sometimes well!  I love to write.  This ability gives me a sense of accomplishment, enjoyment, strength and freedom, and...

We each have the ominous power as teachers to cultivate all of those magnificent qualities in the children entrusted to us.  We may never know how our actions and words—positive and otherwise may affect our students’ lives—while in our classrooms and beyond.  We may never know the adults we help to create, but we certainly have the opportunity right now to get to know and guide the children who are sitting in class before us.

I am truly indebted to Mrs. Thompson.  She made a great impression on me as a child and continues to influence me to this day as an educator myself.  She practiced differentiation before the word was “hip” and  was added to the dictionary of educational jargon and interspersed into every staff development meeting conducted.  She attended to the whole child when the teacher’s manual only addressed phonics and the “schwa e” sound.  And she provided positive praise and acceptance to the children in her charge when the rule of the day was, “Don’t let them see you smile until Christmas.” She may not have smiled for the class picture for any number of reasons.  Perhaps she had had to endure undue criticism from her peers or her administrator for her unconventional ways.   But I am sure she was smiling inside knowing that what she was doing was absolutely the best thing for children. 

I can only hope that I have had a similar effect on the many students I have known in my many years as an educator...and as a writer.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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